Duck and cover

Well, they finally did it.

Senate Democrats on Thursday used their majority control of the upper house of Congress to change the rules, barring use of the filibuster on executive branch appointments and judicial nominations. They didn't go all the way — stopping a filibuster of ordinary legislation still will have to clear the 60-vote threshold, and the filibuster still can be used against Supreme Court nominees.

The most sweeping change in Senate procedure in decades is being denounced by Republicans as a power grab and hailed by Democrats as a necessary step to overcome unprecedented GOP obstructionism.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., warned Democrats darkly, "... you'll regret this. And you may regret it a lot sooner than you think."

Histrionics aside, the surprising thing about this change is that it took this long. The filibuster, a long-standing tradition in the Senate, was used rarely for most of its existence, but has become routine in recent years, used regularly by both parties.

When George W. Bush was president and Republicans controlled the Senate, it was Democrats who filibustered his nominees, and it was Republicans who howled about obstructionism and threatened the "nuclear option" — changing the rules of the Senate with a simple majority vote.

It's called the nuclear option because using it is thought to be so destructive that neither side would dare to try it for fear of the backlash from the opposition, as the doctrine of "mutual assured destruction" has prevented first use of nuclear weapons in war.

It's important to note that the filibuster is mentioned nowhere in the Constitution, which simply provides that each house of Congress is responsible for making its own rules, and requires that the Senate "advise and consent" to presidential nominations. In fact, the Founders considered requiring a supermajority to pass legislation in Congress but rejected it.

The filibuster evolved during the 1800s, and the cloture rule — a supermajority vote to end debate — was created in 1917 and first used in 1919.

It's also not the first time the Senate has changed the filibuster rules. Until 1975, cloture required a two-thirds vote. That year, the threshold was lowered to three-fifths, or 60 votes, in an attempt to speed up the process.

Since then, use of the filibuster has continued to increase, to the point that accomplishing virtually anything in the Senate now requires 60 votes. Many scholars argue that is not what the Founders intended.

Now, the Senate Democrats have struck a blow against some, but not all, uses of the filibuster. The Republicans may scream, but they will benefit if and when they regain the majority.

The president — any president — is entitled to appoint those he deems worthy to carry out his policies, and is required to fill vacancies in the federal courts. The minority party in the Senate — whether the Republicans or the Democrats — should not be able to block those actions without winning the majority themselves.

Two former Eagle Point School Board members, Jim Mannenbach and Mark Bateman, say they did not file "more recent" complaints with the state against district Superintendent Cynda Rickert referred to in Tuesday's editorial. They had filed previous complaints with the Teacher Standards and Practices Commission regarding counselor positions and funding for the district's bus system. Both complaints were recently dismissed by TSPC.

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