Harry Reid detonated his nuclear option to protect Barack Obama from his own jobs bill. Now he and his caucus have to get ready for the fallout:
Senate Republicans vow they will retaliate for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-Nev.) decision to unilaterally change the Senate’s rules Thursday without prior warning or negotiation.
Republican aides say their bosses will now be even more reluctant to allow the Senate to conduct routine business by unanimous consent, forcing Reid to gather 60 votes for even the most mundane matters.
“Reid fired a major salvo and it’s hard to imagine a return shot won’t be fired. Maybe over the weekend they’ll come up with something and try to make it less worse than it already is,” said a Senate GOP leadership aide. …
Triggering what has come to be known as the chamber’s “nuclear option,” Reid overturned Senate precedent that allowed Republicans to force votes to proceed to non-germane amendments. He did so by voting with 50 of his Democratic colleagues to overturn a ruling by the Senate parliamentarian.
The controversial procedural tactic hasn’t been used in years. In a chamber where it requires the consent of all 100 senators to dispense with the reading of a bill, changing the rules unilaterally is considered bad form.
So what happens now? Reid has essentially removed the leash on which McConnell kept his caucus. Without the opportunity to force votes on amendments by sticking together, the Republican caucus is now a collection of 47 free agents. Any one of those Senators can bring business in the upper chamber to a halt merely by objecting to requests for unanimous consent on routine business — say, dispensing with the reading of bills. That would transform business that would normally take a couple of minutes into long, drawn-out votes to proceed that would take 60 votes to pass.
Reid and Chuck Schumer now want to have a “bipartisan caucus” meeting to allow Republicans to vent while avoiding that outcome, but as The Hill points out, neither have much credibility on which to promise any reform. At the beginning of the year, Reid and McConnell worked out an agreement to allow Republicans to offer limited amounts of amendments while Republicans promised to stop filibusters on motions to proceed (as opposed to motions to close debate and vote) unless the bill in question was very controversial. All year long, though, Reid has aggressively filled the amendment “trees” to keep Republican amendments from being considered, which had already angered the GOP caucus. After dropping this bombshell on them with no warning and no negotiation, Republicans aren’t going to be in a mood to attend Reid’s venting session or trust him to keep his word at all.
The Senate clerk had better start buying throat lozenges, because I foresee a lot of bill readings in the future. Of course, Republicans might find this change to their liking, as Politico reported on Friday:
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s sudden decision to force a narrow change in the chamber’s procedures could backfire.
First, it could make it harder for Democrats to break GOP filibusters because Republicans may be even less willing to close off debate on legislation.
Even worse for Democrats, the tactics Reid employed to change a Senate precedent could make it easier for Republicans to justify using similar procedures to force simple-majority votes on hugely contentious issues, such as repealing Democratic priorities like health care reform and Wall Street regulations, Senate experts on both sides of the aisle said Friday. …
For instance, if a senator tries to offer an amendment repealing the health care law to a bill – after a filibuster has been defeated – and it’s ruled out of order by the parliamentarian, the chamber could presumably vote by a simple majority to overturn that ruling. And the amendment could stay pending to the bill, which could be then be adopted by a vote in the full Senate.
And if there’s a Republican president and Republican Congress in 2013, the GOP could be in a position to run roughshod over the Senate minority.
In other words, this fallout could last for years.