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Dems use nuclear option to change filibuster rules

Updated Thursday, Nov. 21, 2013 | 12:54 p.m.

Harry Reid

Harry Reid

After years of hints, threats and close calls, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid went nuclear on the Senate today, ending the procedural filibuster for all nominations, except proposed Supreme Court Justices, with a simple majority vote.

Reid announced this morning that he was ready to move, declaring “enough is enough.”

He wasted little time, calling a vote to curtail a tool that’s been used in the Senate for nearly a century just about 90 minutes later.

Fifty-two lawmakers voted in favor of ending the procedural filibuster — which in its modern form requires the majority to come up with 60 votes in order to get a bill passed or a nomination cleared when a senator objects.

The change means that from now on, all of the president’s nominees — save for Supreme Court nominees — will be considered for their positions by a simple up-or-down vote, a change that will make it much faster and much easier to get many of President Barack Obama’s nominees cleared through the Senate.

Republicans, led by Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, were notably angered that Reid decided to go ahead with pursuing the change today. Nevada Republican Sen. Dean Heller voted against it.

Heller worried openly that the change to the filibuster — which only applies to the procedure for considering nominees — would nonetheless establish a precedent that could jeopardize the Nevada delegation's ability to safeguard some of its closest local interests, namely, the state's ability to keep nuclear waste from being shipped to Yucca Mountain.

"What assurances are there that today's changes will not apply to future legislation?" Heller said. "Now the opening of Yucca is a renewed risk. ... Without a 60-vote threshold, the current policies toward Yucca Mountain could be revisited."

It is not the first time Heller has made that argument. But Reid isn't buying it.

“It is disingenuous and frankly not true for Sen. Heller to suggest a project that Harry Reid has already defunded and ended would miraculously rise from the dead," Reid said. "If Sen. Heller is so concerned, maybe he should start convincing his Republican colleagues to not turn Nevada into the country's nuclear waste dumping ground.”

McConnell accused Reid of “break(ing) the rules to change the rules” as a way of circumventing Congress because “President Obama’s liberal agenda runs through the D.C. circuit.”

One of Reid’s chief examples when he complains that Republicans have been blocking Obama’s nominees are the long-running vacancies on the D.C. circuit court.

Though Reid has long complained about Republican obstruction, he has shied away from upending the rules by simple majority fiat in the past, opting instead to make softer deals with McConnell in which both sides agree to try to be more inclusive.

This morning, it was clearly that Reid had lost faith in the viability of those compromises.

“Republicans have continued their record obstruction as if no agreement had ever been reached … as if no vow had ever been made,” Reid said. “To remain relevant and effective as an institution, the Senate must evolve to meet the challenges of a modern era.”

Democrats also argue that their tactics aren’t unprecedented, citing 18 examples in the past 25 years when the Senate has changed its rules by a simple majority vote — alternatively called the “constitutional option” or “nuclear option.” (The U.S. Constitution does not make mention of the filibuster.)

“The important distinction is not between Republicans and Democrats; it is between those who are willing to help break the gridlock in Washington and those who defend the status quo,” Reid said prior to the vote today. “It’s time to change the Senate before this institution becomes obsolete.”

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