As Friday transitioned into Saturday, the government entered its first shutdown since the reign of President Barack Obama. Democrats refused to vote for any spending bill on the table, because none of them would give money to the citizens that had been protected by President Obama’s executive action, commonly known as “DACA”, and apparently Democrats are convinced that protecting ILLEGAL immigrants is more important than making sure that the citizens of the country have a functioning government.
President Donald Trump’s solution to the problem was simple; on Sunday, the president suggested that Senate Republicans make use of the ‘Nuclear Option’, lowering the threshold required for passing legislation from sixty votes to a simple majority (51 votes out of the 100 available). He also suggested that the Republican party abandon the current plan, which is to pass a short-term spending bill or a ‘continuing resolution,’ in favor of passing an actual budget for the next fiscal year. Republicans have balked at both portions of President Donald Trump’s suggestion.
President Trump also took a moment to chastise (and rightly so) the Democrat Party, saying that they were “holding the military hostage over their desire to have unchecked illegal immigration” in a tweet. President Donald Trump is, of course, correct; the Democrat Party decided that their duty to the American citizen and the government worker was less important than pandering to illegal immigrants who they hope to be able to receive votes from in the near future.
Great to see how hard Republicans are fighting for our Military and Safety at the Border. The Dems just want illegal immigrants to pour into our nation unchecked. If stalemate continues, Republicans should go to 51% (Nuclear Option) and vote on real, long term budget, no C.R.’s!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 21, 2018
However, the ‘nuclear option’ is not a procedure to be used lightly, as it sets a bad precedent. Once it has been used once for a specific purpose, it is much simpler to use it again, and in this case, the nuclear option may well end up undermining the way that cloture votes were meant to work.
In 1806, the United States Senate had almost unlimited time to debate bills, and that continues to this day. However, in 1917, Senate rules were amended to allow for debate on bills to be effectively ended by a 2/3rds majority, or 67 votes, and in 1975 that number was changed to only 60 votes being needed to end the debate on a bill.
The process is commonly referred to as ‘invoking cloture,’ and it currently requires that the Senate be able to produce 60 votes to end debate on the bill. Once these votes are attained, all debate is ended, and the bill is then put up for a vote, which generally requires only 51 ‘yea’ votes to pass. In this way, cloture is often used as a signal that the vote will pass; if it is allowed to come up for a vote, a bill has already received sixty votes once, and even with a few party members refusing to vote for a bill in order to pander to their constituency, a bill that has passed cloture is likely to pass into law.
The nuclear option uses a simple majority vote in the Senate (51 votes) to override the usual cloture process. On November 21, 2013, Harry Reid and Patrick Leahy, Democrat Senators from Nevada and Vermont respectively, invoked the ‘nuclear option’, by calling for a cloture vote (which failed, predictably). Then Senator Reid made a point of order, citing a Senate rule, and demanding that the cloture vote for such votes (concerning approval of President Obama’s appointees to courts) be lowered to a simple majority. Through procedural manipulation, the new rule is set, and now presidential court appointees (except for Supreme Court appointees) require only a simple majority.
Invoking these rules, even if only done for spending bills or budget votes, is not something that any politician or American should take lightly. The ‘nuclear option’ will forever change the landscape of budget negotiations in the United States. It is wise and prudent to remember that, although Republicans hold majorities in both houses of our bicameral legislature, as well as the presidency, someday this will not be the case, and a Democrat president with a meager Democrat majority in the Senate will be able to easily ram through a terrible budget or spending bill.
In this case, it would likely be better to allow the Democrat party to blink on the budget negotiations, rather than giving them the ability to pass spending bills in the future with a simple majority. The Democrat Party is the party that will feel the most pain as the shutdown drags on; after all, they’re the ones who refused to vote with the Republican party for cloture, even though the Republicans in Congress added incentives to the bill to cover healthcare for children.
In other words, even though Democrats in Congress decided that they could cross over to vote for the continuing resolution, it is SENATE Democrats alone who are keeping the government shut down. In the end, it all comes down to one thing: how easy do Democrats want to make it for Republican challengers to run attack ads against them in 2018 and 2020?