Reid Goes NuclearOctober 7, 2011 - by Donny Shaw
All week Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid [D, NV] and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell [R, KY] have been in a procedural battle over the American Jobs Act. McConnell has been trying to force a vote on the bill in the form of an amendment to the China currency bill that is currently before the Senate in order to show that the Democrats don’t even have their own caucus in order on it. Reid says he’s willing to vote on the jobs bill, but not in the form of an amendment. He offered to move from the China currency bill to the jobs bill so the Senate can have a full debate and he can offer amendments to help shore up the Democrats. McConnell rejected the offer.
On Thursday afternoon it appeared that McConnell was going to win, sort of. He was planning to force a vote on a motion to suspend the Senate rules that require amendments to be germane and move to his amendment (i.e. the jobs bill). It wouldn’t be a vote on the jobs bill, but it would be a vote on voting on the jobs bill, and in his mind that would be enough for justify good talking points.
The Senate Parliamentarian determined that McConnell’s move was legit and ruled it in order. That’s when Reid pulled out the “nuclear option”:
Reid then appealed the ruling, following a script that advocates of ending the filibuster wrote long ago. What some senators call the “constitutional option,” and what others call the “nuclear option,” involves as a first step appealing a ruling that a filibuster is in order. The second step is to defeat a motion to table that appeal, which is exactly what happened next, with all but one Democrat sticking with Reid. (Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) voted against Reid; Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) didn’t vote.)
With the chair overruled, McConnell’s motion was declared out of order, setting a narrow precedent that motions to suspend the rules are out of order during a post-cloture period.
But it also set a more important precedent. The advice of the parliamentarian is considered sacrosanct in the Senate. Reid’s decision to overrule him opens a gate to similar efforts that could also be done by majority vote. Republicans were quickly threatening to use the new power once they return to the majority. (Reid was a proponent of filibuster reform in 2010, but didn’t pursue an effort earlier this year to reduce the number of votes needed in the Senate to move legislation forward.)
Apparently Reid really wants to avoid having an embarrassing vote on Obama’s jobs bill. So much so that he’s using a procedure he has avoided for years that could have helped the Democrat-controlled Congress pass climate change legislation, pro-union bills, a public health insurance option, and much more. And he’s doing it even though the Republicans are likely to take control of the Senate next year and could use it to enact much broader rules reforms to surpress minority power.