It takes only an inch of snow to shut down Washington, but even the nuclear option cannot get Republicans to shut down the Senate.
Several weeks after Harry Reid changed hundreds of years’ of Senate rules by abolishing the filibuster for all judicial and executive appointments, Republicans have all but forgotten about it. They could have threatened to block every piece of legislation until the rules are restored, but instead they are fully cooperating with a budget bill to fund Obamacare and increase spending, along with a farm bill to grow government intervention in the agriculture sector. They might even help Democrats pass a bill that can be used as a vehicle for more gun restrictions.
Needless to say, without any fear of reprisal, Democrats plan to jam through a number of Obama nominees before the end of the year on a party-line vote.
Democrats will attempt to pack the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, the second most important court in the country, with Obama’s radical nominees. On Monday evening, the Senate will vote on Patricia Millett. They might try to push through two other D.C. Circuit nominees, Robert Wilkins and Cornelia Pillard, later in the week. Republicans had been blocking all D.C Circuit nominees because the court is currently split between Republican and Democrat appointees, and unlike other courts, this one actually has a very light caseload burden. The addition of three more liberals would be devastating for conservatives because this court has original jurisdiction over many of the constitutional issues arising from political fights in Washington – both in Congress and with Executive overreach.
The Senate will likely vote on the nomination of Congressman Melvin Watt (D-NC) to be the next Director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA). Conservatives strongly oppose Watt because during his career serving on the House Financial Services Committee, he has been a consistent advocate for expanding the role of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac into the private housing market. He worked hand-in-glove with Barney Frank to push the affordable housing agenda, which forced banks to underwrite risky loans to those who could not pay them back. He helped bring down the housing market, and by extension, the entire economy.
It would be a disaster for Watt to serve as the top regulator of those failed agencies as director of FHFA. It’s akin to appointing the arsonist as the fire chief.
So what should Republicans do?
They could start by suspending all negotiations on end-of-year legislation, such as the budget deal, farm bill, and extension of Medicare doc fix. But more importantly, as we’ve noted before, in order for the Senate to function members must agree to unanimous consent on a variety of procedures. Without a unanimous consent agreement, no standing committee can conduct business after two hours from the time the Senate convenes. With only two weeks left of this session, Republicans can completely shut down the Senate by denying these UC agreements.
Even after the nuclear option, 45 Senators have the ability to wreak havoc on the majority. Just one senator has the ability to slow down the Senate. It’s all up to Mitch McConnell. He can end the year with a bang or a bust.