Senators wonder how fallout from the 'nuclear option' will affect future legislation. (U.S. Government)
WASHINGTON — Things have gone from bad to worse on Capitol Hill as Senate Republicans warn that the Democrat’s “nuclear option” will further complicate getting anything done.
The Senate’s first action on legislation after Majority Leader Harry Reid and Democrats killed the filibuster for most nominations was to prevent a final vote on a Pentagon policy bill.
The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) cloture vote was scheduled suddenly, amid partisan tension and bad blood so intense it practically enveloped the hallways and corridors around the ornate Senate chamber. It also put the formerly must-pass bill “in jeopardy,” according to Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich.
There were signs Thursday that the decision by Democratic leaders to invoke the “nuclear option” could cause all-out partisan war and make passing legislation nearly impossible — including budget and defense bills.
Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., called it “a bad day for the Senate.”
GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina likened the filibuster-killing move to “a war,” and warned that the ramifications will affect every action the Senate attempts. His “Three Amigos” running mate, John McCain, R-Ariz., predicted the partisan mood in the once-clubby upper chamber soon will turn “poisonous.”
“After today, legislating is going to be pretty tough,” Graham said. “It’s probably going to spill over to legislation one day.”
Graham and other Republicans say once Democrats see how easy it is to push through controversial judicial and executive nominees with party line votes, they will further alter the rules to get rid of the minority’s ability to filibuster legislation.
“Think of all the nutty ideas we’ve had that they’ve stopped. And think of all the nutty ideas they’ve had that we’ve stopped,” Graham told reporters. “That’s going to be harder to do. It’s like wars, there’s no end to this. I don’t know where this goes. ... The ripple effects are not realized yet.”
Senate Appropriations Committee Ranking Member Richard Shelby, R-Ala., called the “nuclear” move “a big mistake.”
“The Senate will be, I think, dramatically changed,” Shelby said. “It could be whoever’s in power takes all, I guess.”
Republican Conference Vice Chair Roy Blunt of Missouri, also a SASC member, expressed frustration when asked early Thursday afternoon if the chamber would hold a procedural vote on the NDAA
“Obviously, the majority runs everything now,” Blunt said in a swipe at Democrats, “so you’ll have to ask them.”
When asked how the “nuclear” move will change the already partisan Senate environment, McCain shot back: “I think it’ll be very poisoned.”
“If the majority only can change the rules, then there are no rules. That’s the lesson,” McCain said. “It puts a chill on the entire United States Senate. It puts a chill on anything that requires bipartisanship.”
That includes the in-limbo defense authorization bill, annual spending bills, a coming continuing resolution to replace the one that expires on Jan. 15, and a potential fiscal package that could lessen or eliminate sequestration.
Republicans and analysts say there are fewer and fewer incentives for the parties to compromise, and little willingness to work with members of the other party.
“The Senate further complicated a federal budget debate that was already overly complicated and had little chance of success,” according to Stan Collender, a federal budget analyst. “Although it’s still less likely than likely, the prospects for a government shutdown in January increased significantly.”
More ominously for the Pentagon and US defense sector, Collender believes the “nuclear” fallout means “the likelihood for sequestration to occur as scheduled in mid-January also jumped significantly.”
Democratic leaders say they saw no alternative but to go “nuclear,” and their rank-and-file members argue Republicans are overreacting to its impact on legislating.
“In the entire history of our country, there’ve been 168 filibusters against nominations, so for 230 years half of ‘em were accomplished,” Reid said. “And the last 4.5 years with Obama as president, the other half.
“In the history of our country, 23 district court judges have been filibustered,” Reid said. Over the last “four and a half years, 20,” he added.
Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine told CNN Friday morning that he once presided over a Virginia State Senate that operated under rules similar to the one Reid and Democrats ushered in Thursday.
“I have worked in a legislative body that operated by majority rule and we worked together fine. This will not make anything worse,” Kaine said. “You can work together in a majority rule situation, just like you can with filibusters, holds and clotures.
“I actually believe that the [old] Senate rules were impeding us working together. And look, the Senate this year has passed historic immigration reform,” Kaine said. “The Senate is doing things. We are reaching across the aisle and solving problems. This will not change that in one respect.”