Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) is so terrified of a vote on the President's American Jobs Act that he used the "Nuclear Option" to block a Senate vote tonight. The Senate was poised to vote on the President's jobs plan, yet Reid used a tactic to obliterate the legislation without a vote.
This is a dangerous game that Senate Democrats play, because Republicans could use the same strong arm tactics in 2013 if they get a simple majority. Liberals should brace for anti-union, pro-life, regulatory reform, tax cut and pro-gun legislation to be passed by a simple majority vote if they continue down the Reid road and further change the rules to abolish the filibuster. Reid set a new precedent in the Senate that will further ristrict the rights of members in the minority.
First of all, it is important to note that the Nuclear Option was not used to abolish the filibuster in the Senate tonight. What did happen is that Reid used a parliamentary maneuver to block Republican amendments to the China currency bill. He set a precedent that grants him full control over when Amendments are allowed to be offered by Senators.
The Senate's rules are very very complicated but I will do my best to explain why this maneuver by Reid is an epic power grab and may be a precedent for Reid to further remove rights from members not in the majority party.
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) threatened last week to offer the President's so called jobs bill on the China currency bill. Reports have been coming out since the day the President rolled out his latest stimulus plan paid for completely by higher taxes that moderate and Senate Democrats up for re-election next year did not want to be on record in favor of tax increases for individuals making over $200K and couples making over $250K in the President's plan. Even though the President has been crying for the House and Senate to vote on his plan, Reid took actions to block a vote.
Reid stopped the McConnell tactic of forcing a vote on the President's plan as an amendment to the China currency bill by using a controversial tactic to fill the amendment tree as a means to block the McConnell amendment. Filling the Amendment tree is when the Leader requests recognition and offers amendment after amendment as a means to eliminate any opportunity for other members to offer amendments. After "filling the tree," Reid files cloture and that puts the Senate in a position of voting on the bill without every having to vote on an amendment.
The Reid Amendments are not substantive. They merely change the enactment date by one day and then another day as a means to block every opportunity to offer amendments with Reid's fake amendments that don't change the substance of the bill. The way Reid can offer amendment after amendment without any other member being recognized to stop the process with another amendments, is that Reid has the tradition of being recognized first. Once the Senate proceeds to consideration of a bill, he requests recognition over and over again until he has blocked every opportunity for an amendment by another member.
This is an abusive process and one of the reasons why Republicans have filibustered so much over the past 5 years. Conservatives from DeMint to moderates like Sen. Olympia Snowe (D-ME) are not happy that they are not allowed to offer amendments and the only redress they have is to filibuster and vote no to have a final vote on a bill they have not been allowed to amend.
Senators Jim DeMint (R-SC) and Tom Coburn (R-OK) used a tactic to file a motion to suspend the rules as a means to offer amendments after cloture was invoked. This is a recent tactic used by Republicans and a legal way to force votes on amendments when Reid abused his Leader status by filling up the amendment tree with fake amendments. Reid ended that today.
Reid raised a point of order that the pending amendments, including the McConnell Amendment, amounted to a second filibuster and were dilatory. The parliamentarian advised the Chair of the Senate at the time, Senator Mark Begich (D-Alaska), that the amendments were not dilatory. Reid appealed the ruling of the chair and the Senate voted 48-51 to support the Chair. In essence the Senate Parliamentarian advised Begich to rule against Reid, then Reid appealed Begich's ruling to the whole body. Without looking at the vote, I expect Begich voted to overturn his own ruling.
Alex Bolton at The Hill reports:
The maneuver is arcane but momentous. If a simple majority of the Senate votes with Reid and strikes down the ruling, the chamber’s precedent will be changed through the unilateral action of one party. Republicans had considered using this maneuver, dubbed the “nuclear option,” in 2005 to change Senate rules to prohibit the filibuster of judicial nominees. Democrats decried the plan and the crisis was resolved by a bipartisan agreement forged by 14 rank-and-file senators known as the Gang of 14.
This Nuclear Option was used tonight to block Republicans right to offer amendments. It specifically was used to block a vote on the President's jobs bill. Yes, the same jobs bill that the President has been touring the nation and blaming Republicans for blocking. How ironic.
This is not an abolition of the filibuster, but some worry that the events of this evening were a test run for Democrats to go all in on abolishing the filibuster so they can use the Senate as the primary messaging arm of the Obama talking point that House Republicans are the root of all political evil in the country. Only by abolishing the right of Republican Senators to offer amendments and force 60 votes to shut off debate will liberals be allowed complete control over the Senate and a means to send unchanged messaging bills from the liberal Democrat controlled Senate to the House.