November 22, 2013

Senate Dems Just Went Nuclear and Changed the Filibuster. Here's Why.

November 22, 2013
By Patrick Caldwell
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and his fellow Democrats changed the Senate's rules Thursday, freeing President Barack Obama to staff his administration with the people he wants and fill the federal bench with judges of his choosing.
There are 100 senators, and winning a simple majority (51 senators, or 50 if the vice president votes to break a tie) was once sufficient to confirm presidential nominees and pass legislation. But over the past several decades, both parties have increasingly used the filibuster—a procedural move that requires 60 senators to end debate and force a vote—to block the other side's agenda. Since 2009, when Obama took office, Senate Republicans have used constant filibuster threats to force Democrats to win 60 votes to do almost anything. On Thursday, Democrats finally decided they'd had enough, and changed the rules. In the future, executive-branch and judicial nominees will be subject to simple up-or-down majority votes. But the filibuster lives on partially: legislation and Supreme Court nominees will still be subject to filibusters.
The filibuster has bedeviled Democrats ever since Obama took office. A world without the filibuster would include major pieces of progressive legislation: The Affordable Care Act would have a single-payer option, the stimulus act would have been much larger, and gun control would have passed the Senate. The Senate might have even managed to pass a version of a cap-and-trade climate change mitigation bill in 2010 if it hadn't been for the filibuster. Despite this constant obstruction, Democrats were timid, afraid to upend Senate tradition.
Then, over the past several months, a fight over nominees to a little-known but influential court pushed Reid to finally change the rules. [READ MORE]
By Erika Eichelberger
Last week, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) warned that, five years after the financial crisis, the biggest Wall Street banks are still so large and loosely regulated that their failure would endanger the entire financial system, forcing the government to bail them out. This problem—called "too big to fail"—is worse now than it was in 2007, Warren said, because the four largest banks are 30 percent bigger than they were before the financial crisis. House Republicans have made common cause with Warren on the issue—at least rhetorically. But when it comes to proposing a solution, GOPers in the House are MIA; in fact, they've pushed bills that would preserve bank bailouts. [READ MORE]
The big news this week in Washington remained the ongoing disaster that is the Affordable Care Act website If you're still confused about what to do, Patrick Caldwell explains how to shop for health insurance without using the Obamacare website. But Kevin Drum says the Obamacare "hysteria bubble" is about to burst, and the situation might turn out fine.
Another problem facing Obamacare are insurance policy cancellations that caught many Americans by surprise. Last week, President Barack Obama announced a fix for that problem, but our Erika Eichelberger says it probably won't work.
Trey Radel, the Florida congressman arrested on cocaine charges this week, has a history of registering sex-themed websites.
The other big news this week, of course, was that Democrats changed Senate rules, making it harder for Republicans to block Obama's nominees for top executive-branch positions and the federal courts. Here's why they did it. [READ MORE]
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