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Beltway Confidential

Harry Reid's Senate rule change won't be limited

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Beltway Confidential,Philip Klein,Senate,Judicial Branch,Supreme Court,Harry Reid,Filibuster

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's Thursday move to weaken the filibuster is supposed to be limited to federal judicial appointments and executive nominations rather than Supreme Court appointments or actual legislation.

But, in reality, it will have wider implications.

Now that the taboo against exercising the "nuclear option" has been removed, it will inevitably be triggered again when the 60-vote threshold in the Senate gets in the way of the majority party accomplishing what it wants.

If Republicans control the Senate and presidency again and Democrats try to hold up a Supreme Court nominee, there's no reason why they wouldn't use the Reid precedent to obliterate the filibuster on Supreme Court nominees, too.

And at some point, a future Senate could extend the matter to legislation as well.

Though the rule's changes will allow Obama to install a lot of liberal judges and executive officials in the near term, in the long run, ending the judicial filibuster will benefit conservatives.

The reason is that liberals are simply much better at demonizing conservative judicial appointees, even those with sterling credentials. In many cases, this has prompted Republican presidents to choose "stealth" nominees who end up taking an expansive view of the Constitution once they're on the bench.

Scrapping the 60-vote threshold will make it easier for a future conservative president to choose judges who believe that the Constitution granted limited powers to the federal government.

Should the "nuclear option" ever be triggered to end the filibuster on legislation, however, that would be a different story.

Historically, the hurdles to passing legislation created by Senate procedure have been the bulwark against the United States evolving into a European-style social welfare state. In parliamentary systems, one party can get into power and implement major changes without much resistance.

Ending the legislative filibuster would make the U.S. government more closely resemble a parliamentary system and make it easier for Democratic presidents to enact a sweeping liberal policy agenda.

The nation isn't there yet, but on Thursday, it took a step in that direction.

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