The Nuclear Option Explained

I’ve heard a lot of opinions about the Senate Democrats’ exercise last week of the “nuclear option” — the elimination of the filibuster for basically all presidential nominations other than those for the Supreme Court.

Most people are asking both “Why?” and “Why now?” Some say that it’s a sign that Democrats think they’re going to lose the Senate in 2014 and they want to try to jam through as many judges as possible who will rule in favor of Obamacare regulations. Some say it’s a distraction from the slow-motion Pinto-rear-end-collision that is Obamacare and an attempt to get the administration any kind of win at a time when wins are thin on the ground.

But the most convincing explanation I’ve seen is the simply mercenary take of Mickey Kaus:

The D.C. Circuit, more than other circuits, is the central institution of America’s regulatory state, which is the basis for the booming economy of the entire National Capital area. Should this court become hostile to regulations, or capable of reviewing fewer of them, there might be correspondingly fewer reasons for corporations and other interests to hire connected D.C. lawyers to lobby government agencies to get the regulations they want, and to then defend those regulations when they’re challenged in court. And there’d be fewer reasons for young men and women to come to the capital to work in its agencies for a few years before moving into the private sector and becoming one of those lawyers corporations hire to manipulate the agencies they worked for.

Regulation is D.C.’s economic substructure, its mode of production, as Marx might say–even more so than legislation. Those big gleaming office buildings aren’t filled with Congressional lobbyists! They’re filled with administrative lawyers. Now, with a full 11 member court stacked to favor Democrats, there will be even more rules to litigate, more counsel to hire, more mansions to house them and restaurants to feed them. Whatever happens in the rest of America, the capital’s economic future is secure.

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