Sunday, May 8, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 a.m.
David S. Broder / Syndicated columnist
Senate should find a way to defuse the "nuclear option"
WASHINGTON — The Senate returns to work this week facing a calamity that is not yet an inevitability. The partisan dispute over the confirmation of several of President Bush's judicial appointments could be headed for the "nuclear option," which would likely cripple the Senate's capacity to legislate seriously on any of the pressing issues on the national agenda.
Barring a compromise, Republican Majority Leader Bill Frist has locked himself into a position of seeking a parliamentary ruling that would allow Republicans, by majority vote, to suspend the minority Democrats' right to filibuster any more judgeships. Democrats in the last Congress used the threat of endless debate to block 10 Bush appointees to the circuit court benches one step below the Supreme Court. Bush has resubmitted seven of those names and is pressing Frist to bar the filibuster and allow them to be confirmed by a 51-vote majority, an easier mark than the 60 votes needed to stop a filibuster. If that happens, Democrats say they will block the Senate from considering any of the measures on Bush's legislative wish list.
Both sides offered their versions of a compromise before the Senate took a week off to let tempers cool. Democratic Minority Leader Harry Reid said his party would give a pass to some — but not all — of the disputed judges if Republicans would drop the most controversial of the Bush choices and shelve any effort to change the filibuster rule. Reid also said that in the future, filibusters would be "rare," but his spokesman, Jim Manley, denied published rumors that Reid also signaled to the GOP that there would be no filibuster against Bush's first Supreme Court nomination. "He can't make that promise," Manley told me.