Like month-old tuna surprise at my public school, a Congressional budget deal is one that elicits doubt at first glance, a gag upon closer inspection, and full-on dry heaving for days after you get really into the meat of it.
Jonathan Strong at National Review has been talking to Senate sources who say there’s a surprise in here for sure. It’s a bit of procedural jujitsu that’s hard to follow, which is why it’s such a great way to go about a power grab. As Democrats have learned under President Obama, no one cares about egregious power grabs as long as they’re done via sort of arcane procedural maneuvers. The primary hope for preventing, say, the president declaring the Senate in recess when it’s not so he can make recess appointments or enforcing all the parts of the law he calls his legacy used to be the gentleman’s agreement known as lawfulness. Once that’s violated, the strategy is to a) hope someone has standing to sue and three years later wins that case long after the power has been grabbed, which is pretty ineffective or b) that the press will flood the zone so the American people are made to care about a process story. Option b) is how Valerie Plame became a story for the ages or how the filibuster question came to be polled and on the front page of the Washington Post in 2005. Option b) pretty much doesn’t exist under a Democratic president.
So, here we have what looks like another power grab, and one with a prominent conservative’s name on it:
Senate Republicans scrubbing the Ryan-Murray budget deal have come across a little-noticed provision that will limit the GOP’s ability to block tax increases in future years.
The bill includes language from the Senate Democrats’ budget to void a budget “point of order” against replacing the sequester cuts with tax increases.
The process is quite complicated, but in practice it grants Harry Reid the authority to send tax increases to the House with a bare majority, rather than the 60 vote threshold that would be required under the point of order.
The provision has angered key Republican Senators. Reeling from Harry Reid’s unprecedented use of the “nuclear option” to end the filibuster on presidential nominations, they are incredulous that Paul Ryan would have backed another limit to their power.
“This is an appalling power grab that should never have been allowed to be in a final agreement. It’s essentially the ‘nuclear option’ part two, eroding minority rights in the Senate even further. Harry Reid must be very happy,” a Senate GOP aide says.
Read the rest for Strong’s explanation of the procedural intricacies.
Update: A good discussion on Twitter about exactly what this would change and where pressure would come to bear (click through to read the exchange):
Good report, but worth pointing out the Senate could already use reconciliation to pass a tax hike with 51 votes http://t.co/aCAc2vsaOC
— John McCormack (@McCormackJohn) December 12, 2013
The perils of negotiating with Senate Democrats:
There's no way Ryan intended for this change to happen. Only Senate side folks pay attention to such things. Had to be an oversight.
— Ben Domenech (@bdomenech) December 12, 2013