Editorial: Going nuclear
Posted on Dec 04, 2013 - 01:29 PM Printer Friendly View
The word “nuclear” has been bandied about a lot in Washington, D.C., recently, in relation to two distinctly different issues. The first is the agreement between Iran and the United Nations’ “P5 plus 1” contact group, for the Islamic nation to roll back its nuclear ambitions.
The second involves a figurative use of the word nuclear, as Democrats pulled the trigger on the so-called “nuclear option,” requiring the vote of only a majority of U.S. Senators to confirm most judicial and other presidential appointments.
Both nuclear actions have, predictably, resulted in explosive reactions from opponents, as well as praise from supporters.
Opponents of the deal hammered out in Geneva limiting Iran’s nuclear program to peaceful uses are concerned that this agreement has done little more than legitimize the country’s existing uranium-enriching facilities, while, at the same time, easing economic sanctions. Critics have warned that this deal could be the precursor to a nuclear suitcase bomb attack on a major Western city a few years down the road.
The deal with Iran is only a temporary one, lasting for an interim period of six months. There are many questions that have yet to be answered, but it is an historic first step designed to bring Iran into the international community. The fact that Iran was willing to come to the negotiating table at all is a promising sign for future stability in both the region and the world.
Opponents of the so-called “nuclear option,” including some Democrats such as Sen. Carl Levin, believe that changing the rules by a simple majority vote sets a dangerous precedent. “If a Senate majority demonstrates it can make a change once, there are no rules that bind a majority, and all future majorities will feel free to exercise the same power, not just on judges and executive appointments, but on legislation,” Levin said.
If you look back a few years, the opponents of the “nuclear option” also included the current majority leader, Sen. Harry Reid. When Senate Republicans contemplated a similar move in 2005, Reid called it a violation of “the constitutional principles of checks and balances” and declared that “if there were ever an example of an abuse of power, this is it. The filibuster is the last check we have against the abuse of power in Washington.”
Reid and others have claimed that Republican senators forced their hand by filibustering nominees at an unprecedented rate. They point out that half of the nearly 170 filibusters of presidential nominees in U.S. history have happened since President Obama took office. Republicans, they say, have gummed up the works and made it impossible for the normal functions of government to take place.
While there may be some truth to that, it is a sad commentary on the growing divisiveness in American politics. Until recently, the U.S. Senate had traditionally been free of the partisan rancor that has affected the House of Representatives, as the two sides had been willing to compromise for the greater good.
Should Reid have pulled the trigger on the “nuclear option?” Only time will tell. In the short term, it may ease the gridlock in Washington, as far as presidential appointments are concerned. But, like a real nuclear blast, there’s always the possibility that the winds could shift and the weapon could turn on those who pressed the button. If Republicans take control of the Senate, they could use this new tool to block almost every nomination that comes their way.