“Stunning,” wrote the Washington Examiner’s Phillip Klein. “Shocking,” said the Alexander Bolton in The Hill. “Procedural chaos,” as Manu Raju described it in Politico.
In political drama that Aaron Sorkin couldn’t have thought-up, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid invoked the so-called “Nuclear Option” last night, using a simple majority vote to effectively rewrite the Senate rules to further tilt the playing field in favor of the majority party.
The Senate is a procedural mess that only a parliamentarian (or avid C-Span viewer) could appreciate, but I’ll attempt to break it down as simply as possible.
Under normal rules, if 60 Senators agree to invoke cloture in order to end a filibuster then 30 hours of debate is granted. During that time amendments may be considered if both sides agree or if 67 Senators vote in favor of a “motion to suspend the rules.”
This allows the Minority at least some procedural protection, especially important now that Leader Reid almost always “fills the tree” – meaning he shuts out the minority’s ability to offer amendments by filling all the open slots with inconsequential amendments from his own party.
Have I lost you yet?
Last night, Sen. Mitch McConnell, frustrated by his inability to secure any votes on Republican amendments, filed a “motion to suspend the rules.” It was doomed to fail, but at least it was a way to get Democrats’ opposition on record.
Then Leader Reid did something unprecedented. He filed a “point of order” that any motion to suspend would not be allowed after a filibuster was broken.
Now, I’ve probably lost you at this point, and at any rate I’m starting to confuse myself, so I’ll sum it up this way: By a simple majority vote Harry Reid broke with decades of Senate precedent in order to shut down the minority. Or as Allahpundit said more succinctly: “This is procedural esoteric and therefore it’s very confusing, but here’s the nutshell version: Reid’s finally lost his mind.”
For something as momentous as this, you’d at least think that Reid was sure in his procedural footing. You’d be wrong. After the vote Reid said, “Am I 100 percent confident that I’m right? No. But I feel pretty comfortable with what we’ve done.”
Such nonchalance when fundamentally toying with the rules of what has been dubbed “the world’s greatest deliberative body” is troubling at best, frightening at worst. Then again, it’s highly likely that Senator Reid will likely backtrack on this rule change, not because he knows it wouldn’t be enormously helpful in pushing through his agenda this term, but because the political winds may soon be blowing his party out of the majority, and Reid out of his spot as Majority Leader.
If only the Senate could set aside its political chicanery and procedural machinations and actually go about the business of passing pro-growth legislation perhaps we’d see at least a dash of hope in our economy. Then again if they did that, it would truly be “shocking” and “stunning.”