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ISSUE 118 VOL 20 PUBLISHED 5/13/2005

Nuclear option threatens filibuster

By Byron Vierk
Staff Writer

Friday, May 13, 2005

To put it simply, there is no more terrifying and imminent threat to democracy in the United States than the so-called nuclear option. Congressional Republicans have been floating this option around the Senate and House of Representatives as possible retaliation for what they perceive as Democratic “obstructionist politics.”

The nuclear option eliminates the ability of both parties to exercise their right to the filibuster, which essentially stalls an up-or-down vote on legislation or judicial confirmation by continuing debate indefinitely. Political leaders on both sides of the aisle have come forward to speak out against Republican Majority Leader Bill Frist’s threat to unilaterally push legislation through the Republican-controlled Senate, which would destroy the filibuster.

Yet, for Frist, as well as for other Republican hard-liners, the nuclear option remains on the table.

Doing away with the filibuster doesn’t just solve the problem of “obstructionist” Democrats – it silences the voice of the minority and destroys any chance of bipartisan solutions to pressing and multi-faceted issues.

The perilous future of the filibuster is not recieving the type of exhaustive press it deserves. I was shocked to hear from many of my friends that they didn’t even know what the filibuster was.

It wasn’t so long ago that the Republicans were in the minority and pushing hard for the expansion of political minority rights as well as the legislative power of individual states. Are we to believe that all of that talk, all of that lobbying and debating, was just lip service?

Republicans have already shown that their aversion to federal power over and above the rights of states was hypocritical. There is no greater evidence of this disturbing fact than Congress’ 11th hour intervention in the Terri Schiavo debacle.

Strangely, the same Republicans who had been trumpeting for years that the problem with government was government (to paraphrase Ronald Reagan) now seemed to believe that the federal government should step in even on the individual level.

Apparently, the rights of the states are sacred unless they contradict what the Republican-controlled government deems moral or immoral.

Hypocrisy is an unavoidable aspect of politics in America, but these attacks on political minority rights and seemingly contradictory pro-federalist political actions by congressional Republicans should be a cause for alarm for every American. They are frightening, Machiavellian actions, patently antithetical to a body that should hold its greatest mission to be compromising and representative of the American public as a whole.

Thankfully, thoughtful and compromising Republicans like Chuck Hagel, Bob Dole, Sen. John McCain and others have all stepped forward to tell Frist that doing away with the filibuster over the threatened blocking of a paltry 10 judicial nominees is beyond overkill: it is contrary to the spirit of democracy itself.

As Democratic National Covention chair Howard Dean succinctly stated in a recent radio address, “Changing the rules just to get what you want is not right.”

Perhaps the most unsettling part of the continuing debate over judicial appointments, other than the possible end of the filibuster, is Frist’s unwavering refusal to accept compromises from Democrats. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) offered to allow an up-or-down vote on several of the judicial nominees now under threat of filibuster from Democrats, as well as his own personal promise that no filibuster would be used on a Bush Supreme Court appointee. Shockingly, Frist refused the offer. This kind of “all or nothing” attitude will only hurt the Republicans in the long run, is already evidenced by the steady decline in support for both the President and major conservative policy issues, such as the reform of Social Security.

Equally reprehensible is the way in which Republican supporters of the nuclear option have attempted to paint Democrats as stubborn obstructionists unwilling to confirm qualified judicial nominees out of spite toward Bush or revenge for election losses. The fact of the matter is, the Democrats in this Republican Congress are less “obstructionist” than the Republicans in the Congresses under Bill Clinton. Those “non-obstructionist” Republicans blocked over 40 of Clinton’s nominees … and that was just appellate judges.

It’s truly sad when either party has to resort to unabashed hyperbole and name-calling to justify its extremism, and sadder still when it begins to believe the lies it tells.

The fight to maintain the power of the minority through the filibuster is one that the American public cannot allow the Democrats to lose. Indeed, if Republicans succeed in dismantling the right to filibuster, they will alter the make-up of Congress more drastically than anything in its nearly 230 years of existence. Republicans would do well to remember the days when they were the “little guy” in Congress, and realize that alienating the Democrats now could come back to haunt them.

The last thing that politics in America needs is a deepening of the anger and bitterness which already threatens to divide us further from our potentially more perfect union. Destroying the filibuster would do just that.

Staff writer Byron Vierk is a senior from Lincoln, Neb. He majors in English and history.

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