A new, tougher version of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and his Democratic Conference has been on display the past few weeks. The question is: How long will it last and to what end?
Reid has recently been able to command unity from his rank and file on an obscure — but precedent-setting — procedural vote and on the principle that disaster aid should not be offset with cuts to other federal programs. But as he looks to score major political points this week on the president’s jobs bill, it remains to be seen whether Democrats will stand firm in the face of increasingly creative GOP floor tactics.
Last week, Reid and 50 other Democrats voted to overturn Senate precedent and effectively prohibit the minority from forcing procedural votes on amendments after a filibuster attempt has been defeated.
Reid threw down the hammer after Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) demanded a procedural vote on an amendment on farm dust regulations — one that had the potential to become the first amendment to clear a 67-vote post-cloture hurdle since 1941. Cloture is a process by which the Senate limits debate on a measure, thus averting a filibuster.
Reid retaliated by effectively nuking all post-cloture motions to suspend the rules for all time. And while he had initially offered to allow a vote on McConnell’s procedural motion to bring up the president’s jobs bill and six other such motions, Reid’s maneuver conveniently obliterated those votes as well.
The power play infuriated McConnell, who accused Reid of turning the Senate into the House. That may be a bit of hyperbole, as the filibuster and the 60-vote rule remain intact for now. But the same tactic — voting with a simple majority to overturn the ruling of the chair — could theoretically have far more sweeping consequences down the line on issues well beyond farm dust or political show votes on a jobs bill.
“It makes it a lot easier for the next majority to do it because there’s no moral authority to argue against it,” one senior GOP aide said.
But the tough move seemed in line with other hardball actions by Reid of late.
Earlier in the week, the Majority Leader “filled the tree” on the underlying China currency bill to block McConnell’s initial effort to force a vote on the president’s jobs bill — one that was sure to fail and split Democrats, several of whom oppose the assortment of tax hikes Obama originally proposed.
Reid won cloture, 62-38, on the China bill, splitting Republicans despite McConnell’s opposition. But Republicans warned there could be fallout the next time Reid tries to block all GOP amendments.
“Why would Republicans ever give him cloture on anything if he fills the tree again?” the GOP aide asked. Sixty votes are needed to invoke cloture.
The move by Reid also comes after he and his Conference hung tough on offsets to disaster relief last month, surprising even themselves. Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) said at the time, “We normally cave.”
Vice President Joe Biden waits to conduct a mock swearing-in ceremony with Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, in the Capitol's Old Senate Chamber, December 2, 2014. Schatz was sworn in to serve the remainder of his term since he was appointed to the seat after Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, passed away.