Might 'Nuclear Option' Extend to Legislation as Well as Nominees?

But Senate Republicans maintain that killing the filibuster altogether may be in the crosshairs of majority Democrats who have been equally rueful about its use to block legislation. With 45 members, Republicans have a sufficient number of lawmakers to gum up the works.

“Such a departure from precedent would dilute the minority rights that differentiate the Senate from the other body,” said Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.). “It also opens the door to applying this same rule to debate on judicial nominations, as well as the legislative process.”

Eliminating the filibuster in regard to legislative matters may not be in the offing anytime soon – bills passed in the Senate have to gain passage in the House as well and Republicans control that chamber with an iron fist. But it’s a step that can be taken in the future.

Roberts and others insist that further action against the filibuster – which can be achieved by a simple majority – places minority rights at further risk.

“Before today, there was only one house of Congress where the majority has total control,” Roberts said. “Now there are two. We have become the House. By its action, the majority has ensured that for many years to come, members will not have any rights beyond those which the majority is willing to grant.”

Some lawmakers, like Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), maintain the rule change doesn’t go far enough, asserting that it should cover legislative debates as well. But he acknowledged that it constitutes “a step in the right direction toward ending dysfunction in the Senate.”

“Most Americans grew up believing that in America the majority rules,” Sanders said. “They also believe that this country deserves a Senate that is not dysfunctional and unable to address the needs of the American people. Unfortunately, in recent years the Republican minority has engaged in an unprecedented level of obstructionism. They have used the filibuster hundreds of times to delay or block the president’s nominees and to stop legislation from even being considered.”

But Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee who has led the opposition to Obama’s appointments to the D.C. Circuit – claiming the court’s relatively small workload doesn’t necessitate additional judges – warned that the president and Senate Democrats are “willing to do whatever it takes to achieve their partisan agenda.”

“Changing the rules of the Senate in this way was a mistake,” Grassley said. “But if the last several years have taught us anything, it’s that the majority won’t stop making these demands and we can’t give in to these constant threats. Sooner or later, you have to stand up and say ‘enough is enough.’ But, if there is one thing that will always be true, it’s this: Majorities are fickle. Majorities are fleeting. Here today, gone tomorrow.”

“So the majority has chosen to take us down this path, the silver lining is that there will come a day when the roles are reversed,” Grassley said.