WASHINGTON — Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., called Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid a “bully” who is breaking the rules of the Senate because he needs to do whatever he can to change the subject in the media, and protect Obamcare from the daily pounding it is getting.
Paul was referring to the so-called “nuclear option” that Reid and Senate Democrats resorted to Thursday, which eliminated filibusters for most presidential nominations.
Unprecedented and dramatic change
The Washington Post reported that it "reverses nearly 225 years of precedent and dramatically alters the landscape for both Democratic and Republican presidents."
The paper also said it would lead to "severely curtailing the political leverage of the Republican minority in the Senate and assuring an escalation of partisan warfare."
Under the new rules, it only takes a majority of senators, or 51 votes, for confirmation of federal judge nominees and presidential appointments. That replaces the 60-vote super-majority that has been required for more than two centuries. The new rule does not apply to Supreme Court nominations.
The measure passed by a vote of 52-48.
Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, called it an attack on the Senate itself and a move toward one-party rule.
Lee told WND, "Today's decision by the Democrats to break the rules of the Senate are a partisan attack on the very purpose of this institution. The Senate protects the American people from authoritarian one-party rule by requiring at least some consensus to move anything through this body. The Democrats have just done great damage to this principle by putting politics and partisanship ahead of the interests of the American people."
'A big bully'
"I think what we really need is an anti-bullying ordinance in the Senate. Now we've got a big bully. Harry Reid says he's just going to break the rules and make new rules. It's never been done this way before," said a clearly exasperated Paul.
"Typically you have to have a two-thirds vote to change the rules. And there has to be consensus. And there's tradition. He's breaking the rules to get his way."
The Kentuckian added, "He's got to have everything his way, he's got to control everything. This is more about them trying to control the agenda and shift it away from Obamacare than it is anything else."
His colleague from the Bluegrass State, Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., called the move a "power grab" and said, "It's a sad day in the history of the Senate."
President Obama blamed the unprecedented change on the Republicans, accusing the GOP of an "unprecedented pattern of obstruction."
He used the example of the Republicans' unsuccessful attempt to filibuster the nomination of Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.
Republicans said invoking the historic change had nothing to do with principle and everything to do with politics.
"Today we face a real crisis in the confirmation process, a crisis concocted by the Democrat majority to distract attention from the Obamacare disaster and, in the process, consolidate more power than any majority has had in more than 200 years," observed Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, agreed: "It sounds to me like Harry Reid is trying to change the subject, and if I were taking all the incoming fire that he's taking over Obamacare, I'd try to change the subject, too."
In defense of his unprecedented maneuver, Reid claimed, "The Senate is a living thing, and to survive, it must change."
Reid was against it before he was for it
However, Reid opposed that same change when President Bush was in office.
And Democrats opposed changing filibuster rules even after Obama took power.
In 2010, the late Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., said it would "destroy the uniqueness of this institution."
"In the hands of a tyrannical majority and leadership, that kind of emasculation of the cloture rule would mean that minority rights would cease to exist in the U.S. Senate," he said.
Obama and Reid agree that the change was needed because of gridlock.
The president even invoked the Founding Fathers in justifying the bill, although numerous political experts disagree.
[T]oday's pattern of obstruction – it just isn't normal. It's not what our founders envisioned. A deliberate and determined effort to obstruct everything, no matter what the merits, just to refight the result of an election is not normal, and for the sake of future generations, we can't let it become normal," said the president of the rule that has been the norm for 225 years.
"This gridlock has consequences. Terrible consequences. It is not only bad for President Obama and bad for the United States Senate; it’s bad for our country. It is bad for our national security and for our economic security," insisted Reid.
Madison 'liked' gridlock
The author of the U.S. Constitution would disagree with them both, according to attorney and political commentator Jennifer C. Braceras.
With the government shutdown looming in mid-October, she wrote in the Boston Herald that James Madison liked gridlock "and so should you."
She explained, "[W]hat the media like to call gridlock is, in reality, the constitutional notion of 'checks and balances.' And it is the best way to preserve liberty in a free society."
"Our Founding Fathers understood this. And they specifically created our Constitution to guard against abuse of power," Braceras added.
That is why she she sang the praises of gridlock.
"Gridlock prevents the majority from running roughshod over the minority. Gridlock ensures that dissenting voices are heard. Gridlock forces compromise – often painful compromise, but compromise nonetheless."
Braceras also cited professor Marcus Ethridge of the University of Wisconsin, who happened to anticipate the exact argument Reid and Obama would make, saying "liberal advocates for 'change' are, inevitably, frustrated with our deliberately inefficient government. And so when they do not get their way, they scream 'obstructionism' and complain that the system is 'broken.'”
Former Obama adviser for gridlock
Even a former top aide to Obama has praised gridlock.
Lawrence Summers, a professor and former president at Harvard University, was Treasury secretary in the Clinton administration and economic adviser to President Obama from 2009 through 2010. In April, he wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post headlined "When gridlock is good."
"The great mistake of the gridlock theorists is to suppose that progress comes from legislation, and that more legislation consistently represents more progress," wrote Summers.
He noted that gridlock can be a brake against rash or hasty decisions, and that, "Yes, change comes rapidly to some authoritarian societies in Asia, but it may not endure, and it may not always be for the better."
'Gridlock is good'
Two former Justice Department attorneys in the Reagan and Bush administrations penned a Wall Street Journal article titled "Why Gridlock in Washington Is Good – It is hard to get things done in Congress. It's supposed to be."
"Gridlock ... is part of the Constitution's design and is consonant with our underlying political traditions," wrote David Rivkin and Lee Casey, adding, "the Constitution deliberately makes achieving 'legislative accomplishments' difficult."
Also citing the author of the Constitution, they observe, "the Senate was itself designed to serve as a brake on change. As explained by James Madison, also in the Federalist Papers, the Senate would be a 'temperate and respectable body of citizens' able to check the citizenry when 'stimulated by some irregular passion.'"
Rivkin and Lee said that is exactly why the filibuster is so important.
"Taking this role seriously, the Senate did the framers one better by adopting the much abused filibuster rule. Today it requires that 60 senators agree to end debate on any particular measure before a vote can even be taken."
'You may regret this'
However, as of Thursday, that is no longer true, at least when it comes to most presidential nominations.
So, do Obama and Reid know better than Madison?
McConnell doesn't think so, and he issued an ominous warning.
"Some of us have been around here long enough to know that sometimes the shoe is on the other foot," he told Democrats, adding, "you may regret this a lot sooner than you think."
Follow Garth Kant on Twitter @DCgarth