David Frum

05.17.13

Harry Reid's Good Idea: Kill Filibusters on Appointments

The Washington Post's Greg Sargent has a major scoop that Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid is seriously thinking about ending the filibuster on executive and judicial branch nominations. Given Reid's history of crying wolf, I'll believe it when I see it, but the idea isn't all that bad.

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First, the details. Republicans have been successfully using the threat of filibuster to make it incredibly difficult for the Obama White House to appoint judges to circuit courts, political staffer positions at executive agencies, and - to an extent - chill the administration's decisions for cabinet picks.

There are three big appointments coming up this summer: heads for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Environmental Protection Agency, and the Department of Labor. Republicans are likely to go to the mat to stall these picks, and Reid has now laid out a red line of his own. If these picks are filibustered, he'll revisit the nuclear option that allows him to proceed to a vote with a simple majority.

If he does, that's quite ok. I've written before on the need to simplify the nomination process, and there's something not quite right about requiring a 3/5 majority for a duly elected President to appoint a cabinet. In a perverse way, if Republican intransigence on appointments finally persuades Reid to embrace filibuster reform on the limited scale Sargent describes, they'll have done the entire country a favor.

I strongly believe in the filibuster for the legislative process. Permanent changes to law should not be able to sail through on a majority vote.

But a circuit court judge and the head of the EPA are not permanent legislative decisions, and they deserve a simple majority vote. The Senate is indeed a slow moving and cautious body. Let's keep it like that, rather than sliding into a quagmire that renders it useless to the republic. (Note: I would demand an exeption for Supreme Court nominations. As lifetime appointments, they should remain subject to the filibuster). [Update: I should clarify the lifetime appointments. While they are also for life, I am fine removing the filibuster courts that are not the Supreme Court.]

So, Senator Reid, carry on. If you want to go nuclear on the appointments process, I'm with you. And if Republicans really think it through, I think they'll agree.

Update: the Huffington Post is reporting Reid recently met with Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon to discuss the filibuster push. I'll find out what I can.