Most everything you need to know about the U.S. Senate can be encapsulated in one fact: it's a legislative body that looks down on smartphones and electronic voting, but maintains a row of snuff boxes and a brass spittoon. The atavism extends to Senate procedure, which relies mostly on the unanimous consent of 100 Senators and the use of a 60-vote cloture requirement, rather than on something so plebeian and democratic as majority rule.
But sometimes, the Senate stops being hopelessly archaic and starts getting real…
In a shocking development Thursday evening, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) triggered a rarely used procedural option informally called the "nuclear option" to change the Senate rules.
Reid and 50 members of his caucus voted to change Senate rules unilaterally to prevent Republicans from forcing votes on uncomfortable amendments after the chamber has voted to move to final passage of a bill.
Reid’s coup passed by a vote of 51-48, leaving Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) fuming.
The surprise move stunned Republicans, who did not expect Reid to bring heavy artillery to what had been a humdrum knife fight over amendments to China currency legislation.
Wait, what? Harry Reid obtained an artillery-fired tactical nuclear warhead and unleashed a barrage of hell-fire on a knife-wielding, but otherwise unsuspecting, Republican caucus? Now that's a story.
Unfortunately, the scene that played out on C-SPAN was a lot less exciting than the carnage and destruction envisioned by some analysts. Traditionally, after 60 Senators have agreed to cut-off debate on a piece of legislation, Senators are still allowed to introduce amendments, including amendments not related to the purpose of the underlying bill. The goal is to embarrass the majority party — sure, we'll vote on the currency manipulation bill, but first let's see you vote against this Hugs and Tax Cuts for Family Farmers and Small Business Owners Act of 2011.
By over-ruling a decision of the Senate presiding officer and parliamentarian, Senate Democrats set a new precedent, limiting amendments after cloture has been invoked. Potentially, the same procedure could be used in future sessions to eliminate the filibuster, rather than limit post-cloture debate.
But other than those subtle details, last night's Senate kerfuffle was exactly like a nuclear holocaust.
Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images News/Getty Images
Tags: China, Filibuster, Harry Reid, Mitch McConnell, Senate