Today's 52-48 vote in the U.S. Senate asserting the majority's power to make the rules, and in the bargain abolishing the 60 vote cloture requirement for Presidential appointments, was unquestionably a BFD in the annals of history and democracy. But the Senate's partial abolition of the filibuster has far-reaching policy implications as well.
Let's start, just as an example, with a case like EME Homer City Generation v. Environmental Protection Agency, decided by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals in the summer of 2012. In that case, the majority of a D.C.Circuit panel held that the EPA had exceeded its authority by adopting a rule that would have sharply curtailed cross-state power plant emissions of pollutants such as sulfur dioxide. I'm not going to weigh in on the merits, or lack of merits, of this legal opinion. It's currently up on appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. The point is that the D.C. Circuit--the most important Court of Appeals in terms of ruling on the validity of Executive Branch administrative rules--probably would not be issuing such opinions if President Obama were able to get more of his appointees to this important court confirmed. In terms of the impact on policy, then, nothing less is at stake in decisions like the Homer City case and numerous other cases before this court, than the ability of the duly-elected government of the most powerful country on earth to deal with the most important problem the people on earth are currently facing, namely the problem of climate change.
The Senate Republican minority's blocking of the appointment of three eminently qualified individuals to this crucially important court was the last straw. It was a blatant effort to prevent the orderly functioning of government. It was a pure power grab by the minority that would have deprived the president of his ability to exercise the most basic of his own powers. It was an act of immense over-reaching by a political party that holds a majority in only one-half of one branch of the three branches of government, to control the other half of the legislative branch, to hamstring the executive branch, and to retain control over the judiciary. The Republicans essentially dared the majority to do something about it. And Senate Democrats knew that if they failed to do something about it, not only the President but the Senate would have been stymied by a minority of its members from effectively functioning. This action could not stand.
So cheers to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and 51 other Senators, for taking the necessary action to prevent a blatant abuse of power, for fundamentally reforming our government in favor of more democracy, and in the bargain, for helping to save the world!