Senator Reid on the Nuclear Option

Ed Fitzgerald is correct, in responding below to my post on obstructionism and a principled opposition, that we should take a look at what Senate minority leader Reid is really proposing to do if the Republicans act on their threat to end judicial filibustering. It is essentially an end to the traditional deference that the minority party has shown to the majority on the floor of the Senate. Bowers explains it in this way:

“What “deference” means in the context of the Senate, if I understood this part of the call correctly, is that traditionally the majority party has set the agenda for what proposed legislation is taken up on floor debates, while the minority party pursues its agenda in the form of amendments on the proposed legislation that is being debated.

However, if Frist goes ahead with the Nuclear Option, Senate Democrats would stop showing that deference, and use a Senate rule known as a “motion to proceed” that would require our agenda–health care, education, increased veterans benefits–to be debated on the floor of the Senate without the approval of the majority party. This would force Republicans to vote down health care, education, and other issues that are very popular with the public. “

In a followup post, he gives a taste of the nature of the bills the Democrats would bring forward. I share the response of several commenters on Bowers’ weblog that this is what the Democrats should be doing regardless of whether the Republicans ‘go nuclear’. If this is what is meant by ‘obstructionism’, then full speed ahead and damn the torpedoes.

Unfortunately, some of the old boys on the Democratic side of the aisle don’t have the stomach for a real fight. The ever-deferential Joe Biden (recal how deferential he was to Clarence Thomas at his confirmation hearing?), for example, proposes a compromise in which the Democrats would forestall the GOP anti-filibuster maneuver by letting some most of the contested judges be confirmed.

Biden aside, are we looking at the coalescence of the ‘principled’ part of the opposition recipé for which I was calling? One crucial question, if this moves along, is whether the Democrats can make it work for public opinion in 2006 and 2008. Webloggers like Fitzgerald and Josh Marshall argue that the Democrats will not be vilified for this sort of obstructionism, that it in important regards does not amount to a government shutdown in the eyes of the public (social security checks will keep coming, the national parks and government offices will remain open, etc.) are underestimating the GOP mastery of newspeak and spin and thier seeming lock on the American hearts and minds. Why, just look below at their largely successful effort (with the co-optation of the mainstream press), when it turned out that the ‘nuclear option’ phraseology they had coined wasn’t selling well to the public, to blame the Democrats for the term.

But, while I certainly think proposing progressive legislation in areas of social and economic policy is certainly what the Democrats should be doing, this is only a part of the picture. Yeah, yeah, yeah, these bills will help the working poor, etc., but as much as anything, they are a political maneuver to back the GOP into a corner by forcing Senators to vote against popular legislation. While rhetorical points may be won by these machinations, I still think that a principled opposition has to find a way to stop the lasting damage the Bush zealots are doing in the meanwhile. Taking the fight to the wire on American unilateral warmongering, on selling out clean air and water to corporate interests, handing a victory in the culture wars to the American Taliban and undoing seventy years’ commitment to the social welfare of the less fortunate has to start now. Otherwise, as I said (and as FmH readers who think I am wasting my time on partisan politics remind me), facilitating the Democratic victory in 2006 and 2008 will just be buying us business as usual.

Media adopts false claim that "nuclear option" is a Democratic-coined term

“Major media outlets have recently miscast the term ‘nuclear option’ as a creation of Senate Democrats. These include even National Public Radio (NPR), the Los Angeles Times, and the New York Times, all of which had previously reported accurately that it was Senate Republicans who originated the term.

As several weblogs have noted, the term ‘nuclear option’ — referring to the Republican-proposed Senate rule change that would prohibit filibusters of judicial nominations — was coined by one of its leading advocates, Sen. Trent Lott (R-MS). But since Republican strategists judged the term ‘nuclear option’ to be a liability, they have urged Senate Republicans to adopt the term ‘constitutional option.’ Many in the media have complied with the Senate Republicans’ shift in terminology and repeated their attribution of the term ‘nuclear option’ to the Democrats.” (Media Matters)