A dictator does not rule using democratic means, and the term is generally used to describe someone who holds and abuses an extraordinary amount of power characterized by traits such as repression of political opponents, a single-party state, and suspension of election results if they even allow elections. For over two-hundred years America remained free of dictators thanks to its Constitution and representative democracy, and yet in 2009 when the people elected an African American man as President, Republicans in Congress, primarily the Senate, took on dictatorial powers and abused political opponents, suspended election results, and attempted to impose a single-party state. Yesterday, after allowing Republican dictators-by-committee to hold sway over a crucial portion of government for nearly five years due to a misplaced sense of comity, Majority Leader Harry Reid did what he should have done three years ago and dealt a major blow to Republican dictators in the Senate.
First, the vote in the Senate to end Republicans’ obstruction of President Obama’s nominees to fill cabinet level posts and the federal judiciary was not “nuclear” as so many have implied. It was a minor procedural tweak agreed to use the democratic process to alter a filibuster rule Republicans have abused mercilessly to prevent the government and judiciary from functioning as the Founding Fathers intended. Senate Republicans still get to use their precious filibuster to prevent legislation from being discussed or reaching the floor for a yea or nay vote, and likely they will continue obstructing legislation to create jobs, protect consumers, and grow the economy. To hear Republicans protest and whine yesterday, Harry Reid may as well have suspended the Senate and ceded its power to President Obama who weighed in on the rule change from the White House.
The President said “today’s pattern of obstruction, it just isn’t normal. It’s not what our founders envisioned. A deliberate and determined effort to obstruct everything, no matter what the merits, just to refight the results of an election is not normal, and for the sake of future generations we can’t let it become normal.” Indeed, Republicans have used the filibuster to obstruct legislation on job programs, gun safety measures, immigration reform, and women’s rights. The filibuster tweak Republican John McCain said means “there are no rules in the United States Senate” any longer only allows a majority vote to confirm judicial and executive nominees short of the Supreme Court; Republicans can still filibuster and block legislation that benefits the people.
The President, like many pundits, is slightly off-base in claiming Republican obstruction was refighting the results of an election; they were nullifying the results of the last two presidential elections to establish one party (Republican) rule that typifies dictators. In fact, by deliberately preventing the President from appointing his own cabinet and federal judges, they nullified the Constitution that gives him the authority to nominate qualified candidates the Senate can confirm or reject using the democratic process. In effect, by preventing the President from filling Cabinet level positions and federal judges they nullified the federal government’s ability to function and they are livid their power is gone.
Of all the Republicans crying and gnashing their teeth over the filibuster rule change, it was libertarian Senator Rand Paul who projected on to Harry Reid what Republicans, including Paul, were guilty of by abusing the filibuster. Paul accused Reid of being a bully for bringing the rule change up for a vote, and yet it was Republicans who were bullies by obstructing legislation and high-level nominees throughout the President’s tenure in the White House. Paul said, “He’s gotta have everything his way, he’s gotta control everything. This is more about them trying to control the agenda than it is about anything else. Basically, he’s become the dictator of the Senate. He’s going to bend and break the rules to get his way.” Paul was so flummoxed his party can no longer control everything, including the Senate’s agenda by abusing the filibuster, that he likely failed to hear himself describe Republicans who have dictated the upper chambers’ agenda from a minority position since an African American man is President.
Republicans will be crying foul for days because their little dictatorship suffered a setback, and although the Senate vote to allow a majority to confirm or reject Presidential nominees was a necessary step to get the government working again, it will not stop Republican obstructionism on legislation. However, it does end the dictatorship that unilaterally rewrote the law by demanding a 60-vote supermajority threshold for President Obama’s high-level appointments, At one time requiring a supermajority was very rare, but it became routine since the people elected President Obama going back to his first term.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell claimed the filibuster tweak will give the President authority to “pack the federal judiciary,” but he knows that entails expanding the size of the courts and not nominating candidates to fully staff the appeals court. There are supposed to be eleven full-time judges on the bench, but the court limped along with just eight full-time judges and it is well within the President’s constitutional authority to nominate qualified candidates the Senate could either confirm or reject if Republicans allowed an up or down vote.
Republicans forced Harry Reid to call for a vote to change filibuster rules and they have no-one but themselves to blame. For the past five years they have dictated the Senate agenda and prevented debate and votes on legislation to put Veterans to work, enact sane gun safety measures, and pass immigration reform only because the President supported them. Speaker John Boehner has prevented the House from voting on several pieces of legislations such as the farm bill, several job creation measures, and last month prevented an up or down vote to re-open the government and raise the nation’s debt limit until the last minute despite there were sufficient votes for passage.
Now that Harry Reid neutered some of the Republican dictatorial power in the Senate, it is up to the American voters to put an end to the Republican dictators in the House by voting them out of power. They do not have power to obstruct Presidential appointments to cabinet and federal judiciary positions, but they have let bipartisan Senate bills languish without a simple up or down vote because the President supports them and they passed with bipartisan support in the Senate.
Since they took control of the House after the 2010 midterm elections, Republicans have effectively nullified several bipartisan Senate bills as well as the voice of the people who re-elected President Obama to enact his economic agenda and put Americans to work to grow the economy. Republicans have dictated the nation’s agenda for three years now, and at least the President can exercise his Constitutional authority and do the job the people elected him to do. Unfortunately, for the next year Republicans in the House can obstruct economic recovery in spite of yesterday’s rule change. There is little doubt that since their Senate compadres can no longer obstruct the President’s nominees, the people should brace for more strident obstructionism to thwart economic recovery and continue their five year crusade to nullify two presidential election results.