Saturday, March 28, 2009

Reid: Nuclear Option for Me But Not for Thee

An interesting point at The Weekly Standard
By John McCormack:

At a briefing with reporters this morning, Harry Reid said that Republicans attempted to "ruin our country" when some tried to change Senate rules so that only a simple majority would be needed to confirm judges, a legislative maneuver dubbed the "nuclear option." But yesterday Reid said that it would be okay for Democrats to pass nationalized health care and massive cap-and-trade energy tax with a simple majority through a slightly-less-scary-sounding maneuver known as "budget reconciliation". Reid said today of the GOP's toying with the so-called "nuclear option":

The nuclear option is only one of the things that the Republicans in power at the time did or tried to do to ruin our country. As I said at the time, the nuclear option is the most important issue that I had worked on in my entire career because if that had gone through it would have destroyed the Senate as we know it. I said at the time that if I became a majority leader and the nuclear option were part of the Senate's [rules], I would change them. There is no way that I would be part of using the nuclear option. And I want every Republican to hear that.

So what are we going to do to lower the rhetoric? I think I've done a pretty good job. Let's just move forward. If Republicans want to filibuster a judge, that's directly contrary to what they said their political philosophy is. But I guess it's all subject to change. I think that what they did to President Clinton's judges was a dark point in the history of our country, and I would hope we would not have to go through that again. It's going to be a little different now because we have a lot more numbers than we did then.

Reid then took a shot at Chief Justice John Roberts.

It's not entirely clear why Reid thinks the right to filibuster judges is so much more important than the right to filibuster nationalized health care. Democrats often point out that Bush and Republicans used budget reconciliation to pass tax cuts. GOP Senator Judd Gregg has defended this use of budget reconciliation, saying: "It has always been on issues on policies which already exist -- adjusting tax laws, adjusting tax rates, affecting this program that already exists or that program."

A GOP aide objects to the Democrats' budget reconciliation plans because they would entail "not only a massive tax of more than a trillion dollars, but fundamentally change" the American health-care and energy sectors and fund a new entitlement program. Perhaps more important than GOP objections, it seems like Reid will have a difficult time persuading some Democrats to deploy their own "nuclear option" on health care and cap-and-trade. Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad says he opposes the tactic, as does Sen. Max Baucus.

Some Democrats opposed to cap-and-trade but in favor of health care reform are scared of allowing budget reconciliation. "We've checked with the parliamentarian, and we've confirmed that the rules don't allow you to limit the scope of" budget reconciliation to health care but not cap-and-trade, a GOP aide said. "You can swear it's only going to be health care, but it's not binding. If you type in health care [in the bill], that's non-binding."

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