[R]ight-wing organizations came up with the idea of having Dick Cheney rule such filibusters unconstitutional, and then having 50 Republican Senators support his ruling. The devisers of this plan called it “the nuclear option.” Then Democratic opponents of this plan also took to calling it “the nuclear option” at which point proponents of the nuclear option decided they wanted to change the name and started calling it “the constitutional option.”And now conservatives are claiming that reconciliation, a thirty year old procedure, is a "nuclear" option. Only it's easy to see that they don't mean it. What made the actual nuclear option...wait for it...radioactive (sorry) was, on the one hand, that it was a massive change in Senate rules -- and on the other hand, something so massive that Democrats threatened to shut down the Senate if the Republicans really went through with it. There's some question as to exactly how serious that threat was, but it bluff or not it was certainly what Democrats at the time were threatening. And it was basically a sensible reaction: Republicans were threatening to shift the Senate to a majoritarian institution overnight (for judicial nominations, but by implication for everything) and thereby take away the minority party's main weapon, and so the minority party threatened to retaliate by using whatever other weapons were available.
This time? Not so much. Via Chait, here's Michael Gerson's threat:
[A] reconciliation strategy would both insult House and Senate Republicans and motivate them for future fights. The minority would not only be defeated on health reform but its rights would be permanently diminished -- a development that would certainly be turned against Democrats when they lose their majority. Each side would have an excuse for decades of bitterness, creating a kind of political karma in which angry spirits are reincarnated again and again, to fight the same battles and suffer the same wounds [Emphasis added].Which prompts two reactions. First, "Day of the Dove" was a really stupid episode, although Kang was a great Klingon. And second, Ooohh, Scary! Drop a nuke on 'em, and it'll...motivate them for future fights.
Which is not to say that Gerson is wrong about health care reform in general, although I think he is; I don't know whether Republicans really think that Democrats will be punished for passing the bill instead of letting it die, but if that's what they really think they're almost certainly wrong. His entire argument is based on the polls right now, which are actually fairly complex and ambiguous and are also the wrong thing to look at. But it does point out that no one, proponents or opponents of health care reform, is acting as if the minority party's "rights would be permanently diminished." The Democrats are planning to use a standard procedure to pass a bill the Republicans don't like. That's all. It ain't nuclear.