The ghost of filibusters future
From the Washington Post:
As speculation mounts that Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist will step down from the Supreme Court soon because of thyroid cancer, Senate Republican leaders are preparing for a showdown to keep Democrats from blocking President Bush's judicial nominations, including a replacement for Rehnquist.
Republicans say that Democrats have abused the filibuster by blocking 10 of the president's 229 judicial nominees in his first term -- although confirmation of Bush nominees exceeds in most cases the first-term experience of presidents dating to Ronald Reagan. Describing the filibusters as intolerable, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) has hinted he may resort to an unusual parliamentary maneuver, dubbed the "nuclear option," to thwart such filibusters.
Democrats, however, face several constraints. Democratic strategists said that some of the party's senators from states Bush carried in the presidential election could be reluctant to support a filibuster for fear of being portrayed as obstructionist -- a tactic the GOP used successfully in congressional elections this year and in 2002.
Although frustrated Senate leaders have resorted in the past to tactics involving at least some aspects of the nuclear option, none of the confrontations approached the significance -- or political explosiveness -- of the current dispute, with implications stretching beyond the issue of judicial nominations.
Although it would not directly threaten filibusters on legislative issues, critics believe it could open the door to further erosion of the Senate's long tradition of unlimited debate as a last refuge for political minorities and a brake on precipitous action by presidents and legislative majorities. Although Bush would have an easier time getting the judges he wants, Democrats warn that he could run into trouble on Social Security, tax simplification and other major second-term initiatives that will probably require Democratic cooperation for passage.
Use of the nuclear option "would make the Senate look like a banana republic . . . and cause us to try to shut it down in every way," Schumer said. "Social Security and tax reform need Democratic support. If they use the nuclear option, in all likelihood they would not get Democratic support" for those and other initiatives, he added.