The "save the filibuster" deal worked out by the U.S. Senate Tuesday solved the short-term problem of some of President Barack Obama's long-pending nominations, but left the big issue -- the lack of democratic process in the chamber -- in place.
The agreement brokered by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., freed five of seven nominations for approval. Perhaps the most important, Richard Cordray as director of the Consumer Finance Protection Board, was a triumph for Mr. Obama and the American people. Republicans are also likely to approve other nominees, including the labor secretary and the head of the Environmental Protection Agency.
Yet the price paid was high. What needed to be done instead was the so-called "nuclear option," which would have removed the minority's ability to require 60 votes, through the threat of a filibuster, to move nominations and legislation forward, as opposed to the simple majority of 51 votes. Mr. Reid, a weak leader who should retire as head of the Democratic majority, took the easy way out.
Supporting Mr. Reid's course of action and the resulting deal was concern over "the tyranny of the majority," which a filibuster is supposed to counteract. Some Democrats expressed caution that a Tea Party-driven GOP majority one day might be able to exert its will and not be checked by the filibuster. Such a majority could have harmful effects on the country, but to oppose the practice of straightforward democracy in the upper chamber of Congress is a curious position.
Two absurdities surfaced in the filibuster issue. One was the point that the Senate serves as a saucer in which political extremism is cooled. Americans, however, have been drinking from this tepid, stagnant saucer for too long, with the result that the Senate cannot move appointments or pass major legislation such as reducing the cost of student loans. When the House's dysfunction is thrown in, prospects look dim for reforming immigration and renewing the food stamp program.
The other absurdity is that the 98 senators present for the closed-door discussion of the filibuster rule Tuesday night learned that it was useful for them to talk to each other. Imagine that. Isn't it obvious that they should not only talk but also resolve the nation's problems?
This time, not uncharacteristically, senators dealt with a short-term issue to their own advantage without touching the big problem that has tied the chamber in knots, the sacred and destructive filibuster.