Getting Rid of the Filibuster is Easy, and Everyone Already Knows It

| Thu Jul. 11, 2013 10:50 AM EDT

Today, Democrats will discuss whether they should try to change filibuster rules to make it easier to confirm executive branch nominees. Niels Lesniewski reports on how this is going:

While what may be debated behind closed doors at a Thursday Democratic caucus lunch seems pretty narrow, it may be tough to unring the bell if a “nuclear option” is in fact deployed on the floor. Under such a procedural move, a simple majority would assert the ability to change rules and procedures without the two-thirds vote needed to overcome a filibuster of a formal rules changes.

Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin of Michigan has been the most vocal opponent of the nuclear option on the Democratic side. He conceded it may be technically possible to make a narrow change in the rules applying to disputed executive branch nominees but said that, eventually, the dam would break to kill all filibusters.

“Maybe they could figure out a way that this time, this is what we’re doing, but that doesn’t mean that the same approach couldn’t be used for something else at a later time,” Levin said.

I don't really understand Levin's point. Everyone already knows how to do this. All it takes is a ruling from the Senate's presiding officer—Joe Biden at the moment—and previous vice presidents from Richard Nixon forward have all agreed that this is legitimate. In other words, it's been done in the past, and there are no real disputes about precedent. In fact, less than a decade ago Republicans were threatening to do exactly the same thing with Dick Cheney wielding the gavel.

So sure, this same approach could be used for something else at a later time. That's true regardless of whether Democrats do anything right now, and everyone knows it. So what's the problem?

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