The threat of a filibuster over two presidential appointees has revived the on-again, off-again talk of changing the rules to prevent Senate Republicans from blocking President Obamas Cabinet-level nominees.
The Constitution grants the Senate the power to confirm presidential appointments, which provides a way to more closely examine the qualifications of those chosen by presidents to serve as judges, Cabinet secretaries or heads of other federal agencies. Democrats, however, are complaining that Republicans are using obstructionist tactics to thwart the confirmation of Gina McCarthy to head the Environmental Protection Agency and Thomas E. Perez as secretary of Labor.
Both nominees have been sent to the Senate floor for a vote without support from Republican committee members. Although Ms. McCarthy and Mr. Perez might have enough support to win approval, Republicans are expected to block a vote by using the filibuster, which allows a minority of 40 senators to prevent the Senate from acting on the appointees or other legislative matters.
However, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is talking about altering the rules to limit the filibuster on presidential nominees. Although rules changes usually require 67 votes, but Mr. Reid is talking about a procedural tactic that has become known as the nuclear option that would allow a simple majority of 51 senators to change the rules.
Republicans understandably object, just as Democrats Sen. Reid as minority leader and then-Sen. Barack Obama among them did when the GOP threatened to do the same thing when they controlled the Senate under President Bush. Some Democrats are cautioning the majority leader against the nuclear option, fearful that it could one day be used against them if the GOP regains control.
Both parties have used the filibuster to gain leverage in the legislative process by forcing the majority to make concessions to win enough votes to end the filibuster. However, the Republicans are using the confirmation process to express their displeasure over presidential policies or other laws that they have been unable to change. They have subjected the nominees to intense questioning. Ms. McCarthy responded to more than 1,000 Republican questions. That should be sufficient to determine her ability to perform the duties as EPA head.
Rather than another showdown, Sen. Reid should refrain from changing the rules, and Republicans should drop their filibuster to allow an up-or-down vote on the nominations.