"A vote to end the filibuster is a vote to complete Yucca Mountain."
Those were the words from Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander this morning linking the "nuclear option" debate to Majority Leader Harry Reid's long-standing battle against a nuclear waste repository being built in his home state of Nevada.
In a floor speech, Alexander – the top Republican on the Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee — pointed out that some proposals from the Republican side of the aisle would pass the Senate if only a mere majority was required, including possible legislation to direct the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to issue a permit to open the nuclear waste facility in Nevada.
Of course, Reid would do anything in his power to prevent that, and he has done so in the past. He's long been the leading critic of that proposal. He has repeatedly declared the project dead, and he's worked to ensure the effort doesn't receive any appropriations.
"If short-sighted Democrats turn the Senate into a place where a majority can do anything it wants, soon a majority of 51 Republicans will find a way to do anything we want," Alexander said.
Advocates of what Reid is currently pondering note that the proposal would only apply to executive and judicial nominations that have, in the view of Democrats, faced an unprecedented blockade.
Reid has threatened to change Senate precedent with a simple majority vote and prevent filibusters of President Barack Obama's choices for the federal bench and the executive branch. Republicans insist that the rules allow them to block such rules changes unless Reid can muster 67 votes.
Democrats have responded to daily remarks by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., in which he points out the small number of nominations actually pending for floor consideration on the Senate's executive calendar by pointing to the longer trend in nominations, under which Obama is experiencing a higher rate of judicial vacancies and seeing fewer federal appeals court judges confirmed. But there are many factors behind that, only some of which relate to actions by Republican senators.
McConnell responded to Alexander during a floor colloquy saying that if he became majority leader of the chamber, he would be hard pressed to argue against further rules changes.
McConnell said that "repealing Obamacare" and allowing drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge would be among his first priorities. He also suggested a measure to repeal the estate tax.
"These are the kinds of priorities ... that our members feel strongly about," McConnell said, effectively throwing down the gauntlet about what he would do with a GOP majority.
"I'd be hard pressed ... precedent having been set, why should we confine it to nominations?" said McConnell.