On Tuesday, President Obama broke ranks with Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) and Senate Democrats and said he was open to a short-term deal to reopen government and lift the debt ceiling. Obama, in response to an AP reporter’s question, said that, with a short-term resolution, he would be open to negotiations. In response, Reid again rejected a short-term deal and is pushing legislation to lift the debt ceiling until the end of 2014.
Reid also refused on Wednesday to rule out using the “nuclear option,” i.e. a change in the Senate rules to allow a debt ceiling hike to pass by a simple majority. Throughout the year, Reid has threatened to employ the tactic to clear Judicial and Executive Branch nominations, arguing that a President’s nominees shouldn’t be subject to a filibuster. This would be the first attempt to eliminate the rights of the minority to conduct a filibuster on a substantive policy issue.
Since the “nuclear option” was first proposed by then-Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist in 2005, the tactic has always centered around Presidential nominations. Reid’s use of the option on a policy issue would add even more acrimony to an already divisive chamber.
Much of that division has been sowed by Reid, just as much as the current stand-off has been fueled by his uncompromising, no-negotiations approach to the current fiscal debate. Obama, who’s poll numbers have dipped to near historic lows for his Presidency, is trying to distance himself from Reid’s antagonistic stance.
Reid’s possible use of the “nuclear option,” however, suggests he isn’t likely to alter course, no matter what the ramifications are to the country.