Fresh off a failed effort to defund the Affordable Care Act that shutdown the government, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) is has found a new — albeit smaller scale — way gum up the wheels of governance. His latest tactic is a single-senator hold he’s placed on the nomination of Tom Wheeler to be Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission. Under the Senate’s arcane rules, a single senator can delay a nomination and force a lengthy process to bring the nomination to the floor which requires the support of 60 senators.
Cruz’s stated reason for blocking Wheeler is that he’s concerned the FCC nominee may try to make spending by corporations and millionaire donors seeking to influence elections more transparent. According to a Cruz spokesperson, “[t]he Senator is holding the nominee until he gets answers to his questions regarding Mr. Wheeler’s views on whether the FCC has the authority or intent to implement the requirements of the failed Congressional DISCLOSE Act,” referring to a transparency bill that passed the House in 2010 but failed to overcome a Republican filibuster in the Senate by a single vote — under the Senate’s rules, the fact that the bill enjoyed the support of 59 percent of senators was not good enough.
In other words, while the immediate crisis of a shutdown has passed, Cruz still possesses enormous power to prevent government from operating efficiently. Republicans in the Senate collectively possess even more power — even though they will control just 45 percent of the seats once Senator-elect Cory Booker (D-NJ) is sworn in. These and other roadblocks to legislating particular to the United States threaten to trigger another shutdown the next time Republicans in Congress decide to trigger another high stakes battle.
In the Senate, however, Democrats are far from powerless against the filibuster and similar tactics. The can shut off these tactics today, if they want, simply by invoking the so-called “nuclear option.”