With Democratic frustration boiling over, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is once again threatening to curtail the Republicans' ability to block legislation through use of the filibuster.
Fearful that the Nevada Democrat might follow through on his warnings after previously standing down, the Republicans are ratcheting up pressure on Reid to discourage him from implementing what the GOP calls the "nuclear option." In their latest attack, Senate Republicans are insisting that even modestly reducing the ability of a senator to lodge a filibuster could have a severe, negative impact on Reid's home state.
As the Reid-led Democratic minority did before them, Republicans have used the parliamentary maneuver to slow or stall a host of President Obama's nominations and legislative priorities. The Democratic caucus, which currently numbers 54, has grown increasingly impatient with the Republicans' ability to stymie proposals that would clearly pass with a simple majority vote absent the 60-vote threshold forced by the filibuster.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., spent considerable floor time speaking out against potential changes to Senate rules that would rob the minority of influence. And Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., warned in an interview that limiting the power of the minority could eventually lead to Nevada's Yucca Mountain being re-opened as a nuclear waste dump, a personal consideration for Reid. If the minority didn't force the Senate to round up 60 votes instead of a bare majority, Nevada would become the nation's nuclear dumping ground, he said.
"I remain concerned," Heller told The Washington Examiner. "The nuclear option, they claim will be limited only to judicial nominations. But I don't believe that for a second. Once they get a taste of the 50-vote threshold, I think this thing spreads to every other issue."
Nevadans overwhelmingly oppose using Yucca to store nuclear waste, and the issue carries significant political resonance with voters. And, Heller admonishes that at some point after the 72 year-old Reid relinquishes his powerful leadership post and retires from the Senate, a small state like Nevada could be outnumbered on Capitol Hill by those who want to re-open Yucca.
"The day is going to come that either he's not here or the Republicans take control and if it's a 50-vote threshold, those kind of issues are the ones that concern me the most," Heller said. "When you're from a small state, you need as many arrows in your quiver as possible to fight back on some of these issues that you can be overtaken by. And, frankly, this 60-vote threshold is what has protected and saved Nevada in the past."
Reid's spokesman could not be reached for comment.