The U.S. Senate found a sliver of compromise this week. All it took was a rare bipartisan gathering.
The Monday night confab of 98 of 100 senators in the Old Senate Chambers averted a change in filibuster rules pushed by Democrats. The obstructionist GOP had consistently blocked key appointments by President Barack Obama. Unable to get critical jobs filled, Democrats threatened to push for simple majority confirmation votes, ending a filibuster option on appointments.
Finally, the two sides found a way forward. This idea — actually meeting together — should continue and grow.
Once upon a time the U.S. Senate was known as a genteel repository of thinkers. Leaders who pondered more than pouted, and who dined together. Today, most lunch hours are consumed by party caucus gatherings, keeping partisans separated and unable to work out compromises.
Today’s cranky Senate has a long way to go to repair its reputation. As former longtime Missouri Republican U.S. Sen. Kit Bond told The Washington Post: “I miss it like an abscessed tooth.”
Barring a duly elected president from filling key jobs is a dangerous way to govern. Yet that’s exactly what the GOP has attempted in Obama’s second term.
To counter the intransigence, Democrats sought a last-gasp filibuster compromise on appointments.
To be clear, this effort would not have eliminated the storied true filibuster on issues when speakers state their case publicly. That filibuster should, and will, remain.
But the procedural filibuster that requires no oratory and is only a vote to block appointments is a sorry excuse for legislative transparency — creepy and covert at the same time.
With the compromise, Richard Cordray finally got confirmed for the job he’s been doing as the head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
By Wednesday, debate was underway on nominees for the Labor Department and the Environmental Protection Agency. To get to these votes, Democrats agreed to seek new nominees for two recess-appointees to the National Labor Relations Board.
Those who are disheartened by the current Senate’s often rude iteration should remember that things could always be worse. The 19th-century Senate recorded fistfights and occasional gun duels.