Nine Reasons The Filibuster Change is a Huge Deal

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nev., center, with Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Senate Majority Whip Richard Durbin of Ill., at far right, defends the Senate Democrats’ vote to weaken filibusters and make it harder for Republicans to block confirmation of the president's nominees for judges and other top posts, Thursday, Nov. 21, 2013, during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington. Reid complained that Republican gridlock has prevented the chamber from functioning, while his GOP counterpart, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., says Democrats are using a power play to distract voters from the president's troubled health care law. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

[The Washington Post]

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nev., center, with Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Senate Majority Whip Richard Durbin of Ill., at far right, defends the Senate Democrats’ vote to weaken filibusters and make it harder for Republicans to block confirmation of the president's nominees for judges and other top posts, Thursday, Nov. 21, 2013, during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington. Reid complained that Republican gridlock has prevented the chamber from functioning, while his GOP counterpart, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., says Democrats are using a power play to distract voters from the president's troubled health care law.  (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nev., center, with Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Senate Majority Whip Richard Durbin of Ill., at far right, defends the Senate Democrats’ vote to weaken filibusters and make it harder for Republicans to block confirmation of the president’s nominees for judges and other top posts, Thursday, Nov. 21, 2013, during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington. Reid complained that Republican gridlock has prevented the chamber from functioning, while his GOP counterpart, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., says Democrats are using a power play to distract voters from the president’s troubled health care law. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

1. The change the Senate made today is small but consequential: The filibuster no longer applies to judicial or executive-branch nominees. It still applies to bills and Supreme Court nominations.

2. Well, technically it still applies to all bills and Supreme Court nominations. In practice, legislation that mainly uses the government’s tax and spending powers can evade the filibuster using the budget reconciliation procedures. That’s how George W. Bush’s tax cuts passed, and how Obamacare was finished. As for the Supreme Court, it’s very hard to believe that Democrats or Republicans would accept filibusters of qualified Supreme Court nominees, either. And, as Democrats proved today, they don’t have to.

3. The filibuster now exists in what you might call an unstable equilibrium. It theoretically forces a 60-vote threshold on important legislation. But it can — and now, in part, has —been undone with 51 votes. Its only protection was the perceived norm against using the 51-vote option. Democrats just blew that norm apart. The moment one party or the other filibusters a consequential and popular bill, that’s likely the end of the filibuster, permanently.

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