Friday, September 18, 2020

Legislative Nuclear Option

Extreme partisanship has permeated Capitol Hill since former President Barack Obama signed the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) into law on March 23, 2010. Now that the Republicans hold the majority in the House and Senate, they may be tempted to exercise a legislative nuclear option to speedily pass their versions of health care and income tax reform bills. While such an option may prove expedient, it would behoove Republicans to resist this temptation.

Before providing my reasons for this position, let’s understand the terms “filibuster” and “nuclear option.”

A filibuster is an old rule, tactic or parliamentary procedure that the minority party in the Senate can use to stop a legislative bill in its tracks. Once invoked, 60 Senate votes (60 out of 100) are needed to override the filibuster. The rationale behind a filibuster is to slow down the legislative process, stop hotheads from introducing extreme legislation, and obtain more of a consensus via give-and-take negotiations among the senators.

The term “nuclear option” refers to any plan to change the Senate rules without support of a supermajority (i.e. 60 votes when 100 Senators are present). In other words, the majority party can eliminate the use of a filibuster by the minority party by using Senate rules and a simple majority vote. In 2013, Henry Reid broke with tradition when he invoked a nuclear option to override Republican opposition (filibusters) to approve President Obama’s judicial and executive nominees. On April 6, 2017, Senate Republicans invoked their own nuclear option (simple majority) to include Supreme Court nominees – thereby denying the Democrats the opportunity to stop President’s Trump’s nominee.

So, we come to the Legislative Nuclear Option. If used, the pace of legislation will certainly increase. Absent any give-and-take discussions between the parties and bipartisan consensus-building, extreme legislation could pass with merely a simple majority vote.

Based on the extreme partisanship generated after Obamacare was passed with no Republican votes, passing major legislation without bi-partisan support will only worsen party relationships in the Senate. There’s also the risk of repeal when the minority becomes the majority. Although Republicans are now in control of the House and Senate, history has shown that political fortunes are unpredictable. Let’s hope the Republicans will work with Democrats to get bi-partisan support for major legislation.

Maria Lamb Marco Island

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