Beltway Confidential

Top Senate Democrat thinks Harry Reid's rule change threatens American democracy

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Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., excoriated his fellow partisans for breaking with Senate tradition to change the rules regarding filibusters, a move he said threatens "the hard-won protections and benefits for our people's health and welfare."

Democrats voted to change the Senate rules by a simple majority vote, even though the rules themselves require 60 votes for a rule change. Just 52 Democrats voted for the so-called 'nuclear option.'

"Pursuing the nuclear option in this manner removes an important check on majority overreach," Levin said on the Senate floor after the vote took place, per an unofficial congressional transcript.

He faulted Democratic proponents of the change for hypocritically changing their mind about the idea now that they are in the majority.

"Just about every Senate Democrat [opposed a Republican push for the nuclear option], including Democrats still in the Senate today," Levin said. He might have quoted Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., who opposed the Republican idea in 2005 when he was minority leader, but instead Levin recalled Vice President Biden's opposition to the change.

"The nuclear option abandons America's sense of fair play," Levin quoted Biden, who was then a senator, as saying in 2005.

President Obama endorsed the rule change. "I support the step a majority of senators today took to change the way that Washington is doing business — more specifically, the way the Senate does business," he said at the White House Thursday. "What a majority of senators determined by Senate rule is that they would restore the longstanding tradition of considering judicial and public service nominations on a more routine basis."

Levin predicted that the nuclear option will be invoked on legislative issues as well. "If it can be changed on judges or other nominees, this precedent is going to be used, I fear, to change the rules on consideration of legislation, and down the road -- we don't know how far down the road; we never know that in a democracy — but down the road, the hard-won protections and benefits for our people's health and welfare will be lost."

One of Levin's colleagues called for Democrats to do exactly what the Michigan senator fears. "We need to take it a step farther and change the filibuster rules on legislation,” said Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa.

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