Going Nuclear

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Dave Roberts contemplates the filibuster and runs pretty exhaustively through the flaws with the conventional thinking on how Democrats might effectively respond to Republican obstructionism. And I think he's right -- no amount of grandstanding will really work. The good news is that there's a perfectly workable solution to this problem:

At issue is a seldom-used, complicated and highly controversial parliamentary maneuver in which Republicans could seek a ruling from the chamber's presiding officer, presumably Vice President Cheney, that filibusters against judicial nominees are unconstitutional. Under this procedure, it would take only a simple majority or 51 votes to uphold the ruling -- far easier for the 55-member GOP majority to get than the 60 votes needed to break a filibuster or the 67 votes needed to change the rules under normal procedures.

Republicans wound up not doing that because of the dumb "Gang of 14" deal. Democrats could do the same thing (you'd need to pick a time when a Democrat, rather than Cheney, was presiding) except instead of "filibusters against judicial nominees" you'd just rule that filibusters in general are unconstitutional. The rules of the Senate aren't written in stone -- they've changed several times over the years. The filibuster rule, though obviously useful when the political party I prefer is in the minority, isn't a procedure with some strong claims of universal justice. Democrats should scrap it.

And they should scrap it this term. It'd be a huge controversy. But the controversy would die down a bit as attention moved to veto battles and the presidential campaign. That way, by 2009 it'll be a fait accompli and the GOP minority won't be able to scuttle the new administration. It's not going to happen, but it's what ought to be done.

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Matthew Yglesias is a former writer and editor at The Atlantic.

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