Reid Goes NuclearPosted: October 6, 2011
After endless Republican maneuvers to block any legislative progress in Congress, Harry Reid triggered the so-called “nuclear option” to stop a Republican attempt at symbolic vote on the President’s job bill that was bound to embarrass Reid. This move is a rarely used procedural option. The goal is to block republican amendments that are proposed after the senate has moved to vote on final passage of the bill.
Reid’s coup passed by a vote of 51-48, leaving Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) fuming.
The surprise move stunned Republicans, who did not expect Reid to bring heavy artillery to what had been a humdrum knife fight over amendments to China currency legislation.
The Democratic leader had become fed up with Republican demands for votes on motions to suspend the rules after the Senate had voted to limit debate earlier in the day.
McConnell had threatened such a motion to force a vote on the original version of President Obama’s jobs package, which many Democrats don’t like because it would limit tax deductions for families earning over $250,000. The jobs package would have been considered as an amendment.
McConnell wanted to embarrass the president by demonstrating how few Democrats are willing to support his jobs plan as first drafted. (Senate Democrats have since rewritten the jobs package to pay for its stimulus provisions with a 5.6 surtax on income over $1 million.)
Reid’s move strips the minority of the power of forcing politically-charged procedural votes after the Senate has voted to cut off a potential filibuster and move to a final vote, which the Senate did on the China measure Tuesday morning, 62-38.
Reid said motions to suspend the rules after the Senate votes to end debate — motions which do not need unanimous consent — are tantamount to a renewed filibuster after a cloture vote.
“The Republican Senators have filed nine motions to suspend the rules to consider further amendments but the same logic that allows for nine such motions could lead to the consideration of 99 such amendments,” Reid argued before springing his move.
Reid said Republicans could force an “endless vote-a-rama” after the Senate has voted to move to final passage.
This move came as a result of Reid trying to usher through a vote on the China currency bill. McConnell wanted to force the vote on the Obama jobs bill to demonstrate the split in the Democratic caucus on the measure. As outlined below, McConnell tried to attach the jobs bill to the Currency bill. Reid outmaneuvered them.
Tonight, McConnell made what’s called a “motion to suspend the rules,” to allow a vote on the amendments. Such motions are almost always defeated, because they require a two-thirds majority to pass. But they’re another way for the minority party to force uncomfortable votes. Even though the minority party doesn’t get a direct vote on the amendment, how somebody votes on the motion becomes a sort of proxy for such a vote. In this case, for instance, if Democrats had voted down a motion for a vote on Obama’s jobs bill, it would have put them in an awkward spot.
Though it’s been the standing practice of the Senate to allow such motions by the minority, tonight Reid broke with precedent and ruled McConnell’s motion out of order, and was ultimately backed up by Democrats.
So, the end result is that by a simple majority vote, Reid was able to effectively rewrite Senate rules making it even harder than it already is for the minority party to force votes on any amendments. Should Republicans retake the Senate next year, it’s something that could come back to haunt Democrats in a major way.
And just to clear up some confusion, what happened tonight was different than the so-called “nuclear option” to end filibusters. While triggering the “nuclear option” requires a Majority Leader to use the same sort of strategic maneuvers as Reid just did, tonight’s move had to do with the amendment process, not filibusters.
As I mentioned the other day, there are a lot of really nervous DINOs who are balking at the measures proposed by Obama to pay from the jobs act.
Democrats in the Senate were divided over the president’s original offsets to pay for his plan, most notably his call to cap deductions for families that earn more than $250,000 annually. But to unite their party, they scrapped his proposed offsets and instead added a 5.6 percent surtax on those who earn more than $1 million annually as the main way to pay for the $447 billion in spending on infrastructure and incentives for companies hiring new workers.
Before those changes were made and sensing Democratic divisions on the original plan, McConnnell went to the floor earlier this week and demanded that the president’s bill be voted on immediately — given the president’s repeated demands to pass his bill “now.”
But Reid blocked that effort, and Democrats are now moving forward with plans to bring the latest version to the floor early next week. Reid and his Democratic leadership team plan to meet at the White House on Thursday evening to talk about their strategy for the plan.
Republicans are opposed to the tax increases and spending levels in the plan and are well-positioned to block it next week since 60 votes are needed to break a filibuster. And there isn’t unanimity even among the 53-member Senate Democratic Caucus.
Nebraska Sen. Ben Nelson, a conservative Democrat who faces a tough reelection next year, said he’ll vote against efforts to bring the bill forward for debate.
If you want more background on the Democratic infighting, you can check out my post from a few days ago here. My guess is that the current polling situation has begun to make it clear to the Democratic party officials that they’re in a heap of trouble. Obama’s polling worse each day. Reid undoubtedly doesn’t want to lose his position in the Senate leadership. I keep wondering why they haven’t pulled the rug out from Mitch McConnell much earlier but I’m assuming they’ve taken their cues from the White House. Maybe this is the start of a bit more gumption.