Senator John McCain (R-AZ) took to the Senate floor on Thursday morning to scold members of his own party yet again, as Rand Paul (R-KY), Ted Cruz (R-TX), and Mike Lee (R-UT) insist on blocking the Senate from sending its budget proposal to a conference committee with the House. What for most is a procedural action in passing a budget has turned into a partisan game for the three Tea Party senators.
McCain spoke out, saying, “If we continue to block things like this and block what is the regular order, than the majority will be tempted to change the rules of the Senate. That would be the most disastrous outcome anyone could imagine.” McCain was referring to warnings made in April by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV).
Cabinet appointments have turned into a game for Tea Party senators, and Senator Reid has finally had enough, advising Republicans that this type of obstruction will not be tolerated, and suggesting his willingness to use the “nuclear option” against Republican filibusters. After Republicans moved to block the nomination of three Obama appointees, Reid told a Nevada radio station, “All within the sound of my voice — including my Democratic senators and the Republican senators who I serve with — should understand that we as a body have the power on any given day to change the rules with a simple majority. And I will do that if necessary.”
Cruz accused Democrats of using their majority power as a threat in order to increase the debt ceiling without any budget cuts. Cruz said, “This is all an avenue to allow the debt ceiling increase with 50 votes. This issue gets obscured by the procedural complexities and that’s not by accident.”
Lee warned colleagues that allowing this procedural conference negotiation would lead to “backroom, closed door deals.” In McCain’s Thursday remarks, the senior senator snapped, “Perhaps the senator from Utah doesn’t know about that — the fact that even if they did raise the debt limit, it could not become law because it doesn’t go to the president of the United States,” and adding, “So again, maybe the senator from Utah ought to learn a little bit more about how business has been done in the Congress of the United States.”
McCain continued to point out the foolishness behind this Tea Party logic: “Isn’t it true that the people that the [conference] would be held with on the other side of the Capitol happen to be a majority of our party? So we don’t trust the majority party on the other side of the [Capitol] to come to conference and not hold to the fiscal discipline that we want to see happen? Isn’t that a little bit bizarre?”
Reid’s threats not only caught the attention of Senator McCain, but Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) as well. McConnell caved to Reid on Thursday when he agreed to allow a vote on President Obama’s nomination for U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. In a unanimous vote, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved the appointment of Sri Srinivasan to the D.C. Court—the first time this has happened since 2006.
Despite McConnell’s criticism that the Reid was attempting to “break the rules to change the rules,” the majority leader’s threats resonated with a few semi-reasonable senators across the aisle. Tea Party senators are relentless on the issue, however, determined to avoid a conference committee to discuss the budget. Yet between McConnell’s actions on Srinivasan’s appointment, and McCain’s sharp criticism of his Tea Party colleagues, Harry Reid and the Democrats may be making some progress.
AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite