The Senate vote on Thursday approving the "nuclear option" for confirming most presidential nominees "reminds folks of the power politics, brass-knuckle way Obamacare was forged and was passed," Sen. David Vitter tells Newsmax TV.
"Forcing it through pure party-line vote. No compromise,” the Louisiana Republican tells Newsmax in an exclusive interview. “No Republican ideas — and then making up rules as you go along, as we've seen since Obamacare was passed. It's a disaster that we got that way."
The Democratic-controlled Senate voted 52-48 earlier Thursday
to end the requirement that at least 60 votes be needed to advance executive branch and lower-court nominations. The change would not apply to Supreme Court nominees or legislation.
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The vote, which brought praise from President Barack Obama, stripped the GOP of its primary weapon in blocking executive branch nominations — the filibuster. Republicans blasted the move as a short-sighted blow to the Senate’s institutional integrity.
With the second change in nearly 40 years, 51 votes now will be needed to end a filibuster. In 1975, senators reduced the number of votes needed to end the obstruction tactic from 67 to 60.
"It's really sad, but it's sad and unfortunate for the Senate," Vitter tells Newsmax. "It's really scary, and scary for the country."
Vitter, 52, who is in his second term, says Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid orchestrated the vote to divert attention from the Obamacare debacle. The Nevada Democrat said that half of the 168 nominees delayed in the Senate using the filibuster since the nation was founded were selected by Obama.
"They're trying to distract people from the Obamacare train wreck — and that's a goofy reason to do something so fundamental in terms of how the Senate operate," Vitter says. "That's a big factor."
Three Democrats voted against the proposal. They were Sens. Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Carl Levin of Michigan, and Joe Manchin of West Virginia.
"Three Democrats voted with Republicans and said: 'No, this is a bad idea. This is a bad idea to break the rules, to change the rules,'" Vitter says. "It is notable that the vote against this nuclear option was actually bipartisan, with three Democrats saying no."
Vitter hopes the rules do not change once Republicans control the Senate.
"There would be a real openness and desire to reinstate the old rules, but not if it's going to be a double standard. Not if they're just going to be changed again when Democrats are in the majority," he tells Newsmax. "There needs to be a way to enforce the rules from one Congress to the next. We thought we had that because they're rules.
"A rules change requires a two-thirds vote, but that's exactly the rule the Democrats threw away today — actually overruling the nonpolitical, nonpartisan parliamentarian. In other words, a parliamentarian rule. This is the way it operates — and they said: 'We're throwing that out of the window. We overruled that.'
"If there's a way to enforce the rules and not have a double standard, we want to go back to the Senate rules," Vitter says.
Discussing his longstanding opposition to federal Obamacare subsidies for lawmakers and their staffs, Vitter says that legislation he has proposed to require Congress to list their employees is critical for full disclosure.
"The public gets to know which members of Congress are living by the statute, which are doing this end-run around the statute. It's a first step, but only a first step, toward doing away with the special exemption from Obamacare completely."
He dismisses attacks that his efforts will ultimately spur a brain drain on Capitol Hill, since young staffers would not be able to afford to live in Washington.
"The lower-paid staff could get the same subsidy available to every other American," Vitter says. "They should have that opportunity. We're not saying disadvantage them, just don't give them a bigger subsidy, a huge taxpayer-funded subsidy, that no other American can get.
"Within each office, we can try to mitigate for that through paying them a little more. There's an opportunity to do that and plenty of room to do that within most office budgets.
"This notion that you're going to have this mass exodus of talented people from Capitol Hill, that's crazy and wildly overstated," he says.
More broadly, however, this particular Obamacare debate has split Washington from much of America.
"This isn't a conservative-liberal issue. This is a Washington elite-versus-America issue," Vitter tells Newsmax. "This issue resonates and is agreed with by voters across the political spectrum — left, right, and center — but the divide is Washington versus America.
"Quite frankly, Washington-types like to set themselves up and have better rules to live by and set themselves up as some sort of ruling elite. That's just wrong, and it's a very anti-American reality, but that's creeping into our governance.
"The first rule of American democracy should be that whatever Washington passes on America, it lives with itself — no exemption or bailout or subsidy or sweetheart deal," Vitter says.
"And that's important, because of the basic fairness principle, but it's also important for a very practical reason: The sooner Washington starts living that way, the sooner Washington will start getting things right, including Obamacare."
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