Harry Reid just went there.
In a stunning parliamentary move, Reid invoked the infamous “nuclear option” this evening on the Senate floor to bar Republicans from getting votes on amendments without Reid’s permission. In short, he used a simple majority to do an end run around the rules of the Senate that make it the greatest deliberative body in the world.
Here is what is going on. Harry Reid brought a bill to the floor to impose protectionist sanctions on China. He didn’t want anyone to offer any amendments all week that were uncomfortable for his Democrat Senators, even though it is a key feature of the Senate to be able to force votes on any matter that a Senator deems important. In order to prevent Republicans from forcing votes on the President’s new stimulus plan, Reid used his ability as the Majority Leader to “fill the tree” by offering meaningless amendments that served only to block Republican amendments. Republicans figured out a way to get around him by offering procedural motions (instead of formal amendments) that would require 67 votes to pass but would secure the roll-call vote to get Democrats on the record.
The GOP manuever fit perfectly within the rules of the Senate. The Senate parliamentarian said so. Reid responded by having the Senate overturn the parliamentarian’s ruling. He won his appeal by a vote of 51 to 48 and thereby changed the rules of the Senate by simple majority. Senate rules are supposed to require 67 votes to be changed. This was the nuclear option long contemplated by Republicans in response to Democrats' blockade of conservative judges, but was never used, in part because of what it would mean to the Senate’s future as a deliberative body. It was feared that it would ruin the filibuster.
Harry Reid pulled the trigger on a bill that had every chance of passing the Senate. Senate Republicans did not have the votes to stop it, so all that was in jeopardy was Harry Reid’s patience and his party's comfort over having to take a tough vote.
The filibuster is still intact, but by invoking the nuclear option with regard to these Republican motions, Reid has established a precedent that will work to it’s long-term ruin. That is not a good thing for conservatives. I understand that many want the filibuster to go away when conservatives are in control and trying to pass important policy. But the filibuster is about securing a minority’s right to be heard. A government that allows the majority to trample the rights of a minority loses its legitimacy to govern. The majority isn’t always right, and the Senate has always been one of our nation’s most enduring checks against its tyranny.
The Senate as a deliberative body took a major hit tonight. And all because Harry Reid lost his cool and didn’t want to vote on his own President’s stimulus plan.