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Harry Reid’s Nuclear Test Benefits President, for Now

Had the unanimous consent request been changed to allow the seven amendments Republicans requested, the first suspension motion on Reid’s list was McConnell’s motion to consider Obama’s jobs plan. When the UC request was not approved, Reid chose instead to make his controversial procedural stand against the second motion on his list (Coburn’s). In so doing, he was trying to avoid the interpretation that the vote to overturn the chair’s ruling was a rejection of the president’s jobs bill, even though that was the amendment on which he clearly wanted to avoid a vote.

Although Reid had introduced the president’s jobs bill “by request” in September, he attempted to call up a modified version the week after his nuclear test, but he fell 10 votes short of invoking cloture for consideration. The main change was to increase the surtax threshold on the wealthy from incomes of $250,000 to $1 million.

The president heralded the vote as proof a Senate majority supports his bill and blasted Republicans for blocking its consideration. The president’s claim overlooked the fact that three Democrats who voted for consideration said they would have voted against the measure on final passage, dooming it to defeat. Reid and the president subsequently embraced an incremental approach of breaking the jobs measure into four separate bills — one of which was blocked Thursday.

The precedent set by Reid’s nuclear test, while dismissed by some as insignificant, is just the opposite: The majority party successfully demonstrated its nuclear capability. Unless Reid reverses course and disarms, he could be looking at a renascent Republican majority in the next Congress that could use his little test blast as precedent to go fully nuclear and obliterate Democratic minority opposition with 51 votes on any issue.

Don Wolfensberger is a Congressional scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center, a visiting scholar with the Bipartisan Policy Center and former staff director of the House Rules Committee.

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