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November 30, 2012

Boehner Threatens No Votes on Senate Bills if Democrats Push Through Filibuster Reform

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Speaker Senator John Boehner

John Boehner, who is not now nor has ever been a Senator, has nonetheless decided to insert himself into the debate over Senate rules reform. Boehner threatened to ignore all bills coming from the Senate passed with the help of a reformed filibuster, which is really all bills, since ending the filibuster on the motion to proceed would apply to all legislation.

Boehner said that Reid’s threat “is clearly designed to marginalize Senate Republicans and their constituents while greasing the skids for controversial, partisan measures.”

He added, “Any bill that reaches a Republican-led House based on Senate Democrats’ heavy-handed power play would be dead on arrival.”

Though the rules change would not occur until next year, Boehner suggested that it might poison the atmosphere even sooner, “at a time when cooperation on Capitol Hill is critical.”

My guess, along with Dave Weigel’s, is that this is an idle threat. First of all, it’s not like this Republican House jumped all over Senate bills prior to filibuster reform; the 112th Congress is on pace for the fewest number of bills passed in history, and by a wide margin. Second, as Weigel recounts, the Obama Administration has already faced down this brinksmanship on a separate issue:

Boehner’s stepped up before when Republicans have needed to gum up one of the Obama administration’s moves around Congress. Starting last summer, after it became clear that the president would use recesses to make appointments, the House simply stopped going on long recesses. It kept the body open in pro forma sessions, denying the president his power.

Ah, but here’s the rub: Eventually, the White House told the House to bug off. In January 2012, Obama recess-appointed Richard Cordray to run the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau. Republicans threatened to sue the administration. Nothing ever came of that. When you talk to Democratic aides, they mention that whiff as a reason they’re not particularly worried about a backlash to filibuster reform — or, now, a crazy-sounding threat to kill all legislation that passes the Senate.

Weigel also has a primer on the state of play on the rules changes. It’s clear to me that Harry Reid has the votes; he wouldn’t be so out front on the changes if that weren’t the case. The changes envisioned aren’t all that radical, and I would guess that Mitch McConnell will figure out how to adapt to them over time. Maybe the reading of bills in full will become the new stall tactic. Maybe the idea of having 20 minority Senators on the floor at all times during a filibuster won’t represent a great challenge. McConnell and Boehner are escalating their rhetoric because they know that they don’t have a lot of power otherwise to stop the rule changes. And hopefully, ripping off the Band-Aid by using the Constitutional option will result in an effective deterrent, allowing the Senate to get its business done.

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