Morning Action: What Will Happen with the Nuclear Option This Week?

NUCLEAR OPTION. If Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) chooses to invoke the so-called nuclear option to stop filibusters of executive branch nominations, it would set a significant precedent (sub. req’d):

Experts say the possible move by Senate Democrats to stop filibusters of executive branch nominations would set the most significant precedent since 1975, when the chamber reduced the votes needed to cut off debate to 60 from 67.

“Now the proposal, I guess, is to change the cloture rule to 51,” said Robert Dove, who served as Senate parliamentarian from 1981 to 1987 and again from 1995 to 2002, at a meeting on the possible filibuster change hosted by the conservative Heritage Foundation.

Dove, who joined the parliamentarian’s office in 1966, said he hopes that a bipartisan group of senators emerges to stop the changes.

“Having seen what happened in 1975 when the Senate did go down that road, the repercussions lasted for years and the bitterness lasted for years,” Dove said. “It’s not something I would ever wish for the United States Senate.”

Reid claims to have the 51 votes necessary to move forward with the nuclear option, and has scheduled a cloture vote on seven controversial nominations over which the GOP has raised concerns.  He is demanding that the GOP approve the nominations or he will move forward with the rules change.

But as Dan Holler notes, Reid has already invoked the nuclear option.  However, this time around, the stakes are much higher.

The Senate can change it’s rules at any time by a two-thirds vote (67), but the ‘nuclear option’ provides a way to bypass that super-majority threshold and change the rules with a majority (51). And yes, Vice President Joe Biden could be the decisive vote.

This is exactly what Reid did in October 2011 (sans Biden) when he was fearful the Obama administration would be dealt two embarrassing defeats if red-state Democrats voted to overrule the EPA on farm dust and reject Obama’s stimulus. Rather than allow those votes to occur, Reid went nuclear.

On the Senate floor, Reid said, “What just took place here is an effort to expedite what goes on around here.” He then played question and answer with himself: “Am I 100 percent confident that I’m right? No. But I feel pretty comfortable with what we’ve done.”

Heritage also states:

When Harry Reid gets frustrated, he threatens to change the Senate’s rules to get his way.

FARM BILL. The next steps on the farm bill remain in some doubt (sub. req’d):

But a leadership aide said a conference report is unlikely before September, and Collin C. Peterson, the top Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee, raised the possibility that the House bill might never make it to a conference committee.

“I don’t see a clear path forward from here,” said Peterson, D-Minn. “There has been no assurance from the Republican leadership that passing this bill will allow us to begin to conference with the Senate in a timely manner. In fact, the Republican leadership has told agricultural groups to support this bill as the way to go to conference, while also telling Republican members, fearful of the wrath of conservative groups’ opposition, that there will be no conference, at least not without first getting concessions from the Senate, concessions the Senate will never agree to.”

House Democrats were reluctant to accept suggestions that the farm bill will likely come back from conference with the Senate food stamp language or no cuts at all.

We have explained the dangers of going to conference on the farm bill:

Regardless of what was promised by House Republican leaders with regard to a conference committee (remember, motions to instruct aren’t actually binding), it is imperative these conservative lawmakers remember what happens in conference committees.  Even during the Bush-era, conference committees did not produce legislation that was more conservative than the legislation sent into the conference.

STUDENT LOANS.  According to the Congressional Budget Office, the new White House student loan plan scores as budget neutral (sub. req’d):

Among the student loan interest rate proposals that the Congressional Budget Office scored this week was a new, previously undisclosed plan from the White House that includes an interest rate cap and was estimated to be budget neutral, according to a Senate aide.

Senate negotiators from both parties worked around the clock this week to retroactively remedy a July 1 doubling of the interest rate on the subsidized portion of the Stafford loan to 6.8 percent, with the goal of making the new interest rate scheme as budget neutral as possible. A bipartisan deal they struck Wednesday night unexpectedly blew up after the CBO on Thursday scored the proposal as costing $22 billion over 10 years, a figure too high for Republicans to support.

The cost was initially blamed on the interest rate cap that Democrats have insisted on to protect student borrowers from volatile markets. But a new White House proposal, which would peg interest rates to the 10-year Treasury note and includes a lower cap than the bipartisan Senate proposal did, scored zero, the aide said late Friday.

None of the proposals are desirable, as the federal government should get out of the student loan business altogether.



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