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‘Nuclear option’ in Senate

Posted on 04.26.2017

PRO: The “nuclear option” that has been so covered and argued over recently is essentially a change in parliamentary rules within the United States Senate. It established the need for only a simple majority (51 votes) to end the filibuster of the minority party during the confirmation of a Supreme Court nominee, rather than the previously needed 60 votes.

Many,  especially those to the left on the political spectrum, have argued that this change in the Senate rules undermines the need for compromise and takes away from democracy as a whole. This move came after a filibuster by Senate Democrats to block nominee Neil Gorsuch from being confirmed to fill the vacant seat of the late Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court.

While there is validity in the argument of wanting the opposing parties within the Senate should work together and reach a compromise, that was the last thing that was happening before the “nuclear option” was put into place. This essentially will be the first nail in the coffin for filibusters in the Senate, which is something that has been needed for a long time.

One of the most annoying cases of the filibuster was when Republican Senator from Texas, and later presidential candidate, Ted Cruz protested the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). Cruz stood on the Senate floor for more than 21 hours filibustering because the then Democratic majority, in the Senate could not reach 60 votes to end the filibuster. Not only did he filibuster, but Cruz actually read from “Green Eggs and Ham” to fill more time. If that doesn’t make a mockery of the democratic process, then I don’t know what does. While the “nuclear option” won’t completely rid the Senate of the filibuster, it is a step in the right direction.

Abolishing the filibuster in the Senate for nominees is a two-way street. While the Republicans have the majority in the Senate now, the Democrats could have the majority after the midterm election. This means the change in the rules benefit not only the current party in power, but any future party in power as well, whether Democrat or Republican.

While those who oppose to the “nuclear option” have argued that it interferes with democracy, I say that it is, in fact, a shining example of democracy. The members of the Senate are democratically elected by the people of the United States and therefore should use their representation of the people to reform government, create, change and abolish laws. The people who make most of the decisions are in Congress. Those who disagree with the way government operates need to participate in the political process to change it.

—Erik Cliburn

CON: While supporters of Republican Senators’ recent use of the “nuclear option” may claim that the shortcut will make democracy quicker and more efficient, I find the nuclear option to only stifle the conversation and debate that makes democracy liberating.

The filibuster serves as a tool for the minority party, not only to buy time, but also to inform other members of Congress about who or what they are voting on and to provide the majority party a new perspective before the voting occurs. This allows the minority party to bring up thoughts and concerns about the issue at hand, and when the two parties can work together, compromises can be considered.

The filibuster allows for the minority party to have a voice and a way of affecting decisions. Using the “nuclear option” to bypass the filibuster, the minority party loses its voice.

The “nuclear option” makes rash decisions more likely because it removes the filibuster step in which members of the Senate can drive home important information about an issue that affects voters.

And while I hope that our Senators are always well-informed on every nomination or issue they vote on, sometimes it does take several hours of our diaper-wearing representatives fighting for the minority voice to get across a different perspective. The big fear is that the nuclear option will be used in the Senate when it votes on proposed legislation.

When first used in November of 2013, the “nuclear option” was said not to be intended for use in conformations of Supreme Court nominees. Now that it has been used for that, it is now being said that it is not intended for other uses in the Senate.

But now that door has been opened, it may well be just a matter of time before the “nuclear option” is used over some a controversial piece of legislation. If the “nuclear option” is introduced into our legislative system, legislators will find it easier to conceal legislation plans until the time of proposal, putting Senators more at risk of casting an uninformed vote.

The “nuclear option” puts the power solely in the hands of the majority party, allowing them to decide how long the filibuster will last, and to control the time the minority party is able to spend reviewing legislation.

—Madison Hays

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