Armageddonists, fundamentalists, Limbaugh, Hannity and other assorted elements of the Values® set are apoplectic over the deal to avoid what Republicans originally dubbed the nuclear option. The deal must be good, right?
Maybe not. The revivalist camp is characterized by apoplexy while in a state of rest, so their current outrage is a less than reliable monitor of the deal's meaning.
Yes, Democrats have preserved the right to filibuster judges. But that apparent victory may in fact apply only so long as the Democrats don't actually filibuster a judge.
When Harry Reid says the nuclear option is off the table, he's referring to this passage in the deal:
"In light of the spirit and continuing commitments made in this agreement, we commit to oppose the rules changes in the 109th Congress, which we understand to be any amendment to, or interpretation of the rules of the Senate that would force a vote on a judicial nomination by means other than unanimous consent or Rule XXII."
So no nukes this Congress unless--and it's a pretty big unless--the agreement's "continuing commitments" are no longer, well, continuing.
That's the way one within the so-called "Mod Squad," Sen. Mike DeWine of Ohio, interprets the deal he signed:
"If an individual senator believes in the future that a filibuster is taking place under something that's not extraordinary circumstances, we of course reserve the right to do what we could have done tomorrow which is to cast a 'yes' vote for the constitutional option," he said Monday night. (Washington Times)
The Washington Post reported that "several Republican signers said the deal would survive only if Democrats abided by that vague condition" to filibuster only under extraordinary circumstances.
Now that the most radical of Bush's appointees will be allowed to robe up, what, or more to the point, who, would constitute an extraordinary circumstance? As GOP deal signer Lindsay Graham of South Carolina put it in the Post story, "The fact that you are a conservative is no longer an extraordinary circumstance." Given the bar established by the three judges that were included in the deal, Graham easily could have said that nor do radical conservatives constitute an extraordinary circumstance. Then again, in a political culture where the Senate Majority Leader is a sock puppet for Focus on the Family, Graham may have felt describing a conservative as radical would be redundant.
Conventional wisdom says the Democrats have won, well, something; perhaps the ability to wage a knock-down drag-out over Bush's inevitable Supreme Court nominee(s). But the other thread running through the nuclear option debate has been the Democratic Party's desperate fear of being cast as obstructionists in the 2006 midterms. By declaring victory, and with his gushing embrace of the deal (a deal very similar to one he offered Frist in the last few weeks), Harry Reid was telling anyone who would listen that the Democrats are not just the party of no.
Maybe the center will hold--a potentially disastrous development, actually, if it means congressional progress on Social Security privatization, the ugly energy bill and other administration initiatives, as suggested by some senators.
Or maybe Orrin Hatch is right (incredible though it sounds), and this deal is just a truce and not a treaty. If so, we could all end up back at square one, the Senate could resume course, blow itself up, and all Senate business would effectively come to a halt for the rest of the 109th.
Perhaps someone could explain why that's a bad thing.