In confirming Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court last week, Republicans took the drastic step of overturning a filibuster, an act that could virtually leave the Democratic Party powerless until the next election.
A filibuster in the United States Senate is a legislative device that requires a 60 percent vote to bring any major legislation to the Senate floor for a final vote.
This breaks a tradition that has lasted over 200 years where a filibuster has been respected by a majority party.
The effects of this drastic step, which has been nicknamed the “nuclear option,” were summed up in an article in the Los Angeles Times:
“(These) actions would have long-lasting ramifications for the Senate, diminishing built-in protections for minority viewpoints that have enabled the chamber to provide a check on the executive branch and the often impetuous House,” it said.
This is not the first time that the Republican-controlled Congress has decided that the best way to deal with rules that hinder its agenda is to get rid of them.
Earlier this year, there was controversy surrounding the business investments of Steven Mnuchin, the nominee for treasury secretary, and Tom Price, who was to run the department of health, because of their alleged misrepresentation of information to the finance committee.
This led to massive protests by Democrats. They refused to show up for committee hearings, taking advantage of a rule that required at least one Democrat to be present for the committee to vote.
This was a major problem for Republicans. Even though they had the votes, the absence of Democrats did not let them go forward with the voting.
To everyone’s surprise, though, they decided that to address the inconvenience, all they had to do was get rid of the rules that required Democrats to be present. Once the rules were suspended, the votes were tallied and the nominations were cleared.
One could argue that Democrats were playing dirty by manipulating the rules, but they aren’t the only ones to do so.
Republicans previously blocked former President Barack Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland, by not even giving him a commitee hearing or voting on his nomination until it expired.
Sure, the rule bending could be seen as pushing boundaries. The whole point of that, though, is to allow parties to show their disagreement and make their voices heard in situations like this when one party has complete majority in government.
These provisions ensure that the nation does not have to be subject to dictatorial practices under the party in power. It sets up a negotiating table for the minority parties so that the decisions made in the highest levels of government are not just the will of one side.
But measures like this one taken by the GOP drastically change the equation.
The current administration was elected promising to move ahead with certain agendas, but testing the pillars of democracy is too steep a price to pay for it. If Republicans continue this way, any hope for bipartisanship would be lost.
The principles on which this nation was founded require that this be maintained, and unless there are steps taken to restore goodwill across the aisle, we could move towards democracy being defined as the rule of the party in charge, rather than that of the people.