Barack Obama ran for president in 2008 promising to bring a “post-partisan” atmosphere to the land. Then as president he went on to pass the largest piece of legislation in our country’s history by a party-line vote. As troubling as that was, his praise last week of the Senate Democrats detonating the nuclear option is the most blatant example of President Obama’s hyper-partisanship and lack of leadership.
Last week the Democrats in the Senate passed a measure to allow federal judgeships and other presidential appointments, with the exception of Supreme Court nominees, to be confirmed by a simple majority vote. The Ds could only muster up 52 votes from their 55 member caucus with Senators Levin, Manchin and Pryor joining every Republican in voting against this radical rule change. Partisanship on Capitol Hill right now is very rigid, not post-partisan at all.
The Senate rule change has probably sent The Founders spinning. The Senate was supposed to be a place above petty partisan squabbles while the House was left to be devoured by the perils of majority rule. Note the stark differences between the two bodies such as age requirement, term length, composition and responsibilities. The Senate was for cooler heads and greater statesman than the House which was for passionate mobilizers of a local community. In 1917 a threshold of 66 votes to stop debate was established. That number was later lower to 60, and now to 51. Turning the Senate into the House is a mistake and contrary to the democratic structure created by our Founders.
Senator Carl Levin, veteran of the Senate, stood on the floor last week to speak against this radical rule change. He said, “Pursuing the nuclear option in this manner removes an important check on majority overreach which is central to our system of government. As Senator Vandenberg warned us, if a Senate majority decides to pursue its aims unrestrained by the rules, we will have sacrificed a professed vital principle for the sake of momentary gain.” In 2005 then Senator Joe Biden agreed, “This nuclear option is ultimately an example of the arrogance of power. It is a fundamental power grab by the majority party, propelled by its extreme right and designed to change the reading of the Constitution, particularly as it relates to individual rights and property rights. It is nothing more or nothing less.” He called voting against the nuclear option “the single most significant vote any one of us will cast in my 32 years in the Senate.”
Now here comes the post-partisan president. Wouldn’t you think that a president who has been a Constitutional Law adjunct professor and a U.S. Senator would appreciate the reasons why the Senate operates differently than the House? A stronger president would have stepped in and cooled the fire. A better president would understand who can get confirmed and how. But our partisan hack of a president praised the Senate Democrats for pushing this radical change saying, “I support the step a majority of senators today took to change the way that Washington is doing business.” But as senator Obama was against this course of action saying, “It certainly isn’t what the patriots who founded this democracy had in mind.” That is not leadership. President Obama would be an excellent choice for a superficial leadership post such as DNC Chairman, but he continually disappoints in exercising any real leadership.
I would like to see this radical rule changed in an even more radical fashion. When the Republicans win back the chamber the new majority leader should push through a measure that restores the vote threshold to end debate at 66 votes. Right now, neither party will be able to capture 66 seats anytime soon so they’ll have to work together. The Senate was supposed to be above partisanship. Let’s hope the 2014 elections will bring in a new group of senators who are more aware of the Senate’s true nature. Let the House get lost in its partisanship and let the Senate step in to find the right path. It is very likely that last week’s radical rule change will be pushed backed or watered down but it’s too late, it happened. The president couldn’t stop it and then praised it for happening. He has failed the nation on a historic level.