Impact of Senate Rules Change

November 22, 2013 02:16 AM

via a special arrangement with Informa Economics, Inc.

D.C. Circuit Court judges will help decide several high-profile energy, environment and financial regulatory cases

NOTE: This column is copyrighted material, therefore reproduction or retransmission is prohibited under U.S. copyright laws.

The Senate rules change approved Thursday allows nominations to proceed with a simple majority, or 51 votes when all senators are present, down from the three-fifths threshold, generally 60 votes, that had long applied when opponents filibustered—or threatened to talk at length. The change would apply to all executive-branch and most judicial nominations, but not to nominations to the Supreme Court or to legislation.

The vote was 52-48, with all but three Democrats—Sens. Carl Levin of Michigan, Mark Pryor of Arkansas and Joe Manchin of West Virginia—voting for the change and all 45 Republicans opposed.

The issue that brought on the change is a trio of nominees for the US Court of Appeals-D.C. Circuit, which is considered the second-highest court after the Supreme Court (which is exempt from this rule change.)

Of note, the judges that President Obama can now appoint to the D.C. Circuit Court will help decide several high-profile energy and environment cases, especially those involving Environmental Protection Agency. The influential court handled legal challenges to Obama priorities, such as the Dodd-Frank financial-services law, and which likely would consider impending greenhouse-gas rules.

The rules change gives President Obama far more leeway to make the appointments he wants to his administration and to shape the federal judiciary for years to come. There are now 59 nominees to executive branch positions and 17 nominees to the federal judiciary awaiting confirmation votes.

As for the impact on the Obama administration, officials said the president could at least get a full team in place so that he can move forward with executive action, when possible, when Republicans block his agenda in Congress.

But that is what Republicans fear. "This is nothing more than a power grab in order to try to advance the Obama administration’s regulatory agenda," said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

Importantly for potential further changes ahead, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) acknowledged that he wouldn’t mind seeing the supermajority requirement abolished for everything but that there were not enough votes in his caucus to support such a move. For now, Reid and his leadership team held a victory party with liberal activists afterward in a room just off the Senate floor.

Republicans said the way Democrats upended the rules will result in fallout for years. "Democrats won’t be in power in perpetuity," said Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.). "This is a mistake — a big one for the long run. Maybe not for the short run. Short-term gains, but I think it changes the Senate tremendously in a bad way."

GOP leaders have suggested that, if given the Senate majority back, they might further strip filibuster rules so they could dismantle Obama’s landmark domestic achievement, the Affordable Care Act, on a simple majority vote. McConnell told the Democrats that a majority of them had never served in the minority and then said, "The solution to this problem is at the ballot box. We look forward to having a great election in 2014."

Comments: An already weak and dysfunctional Congress became more so – despite Democratic members and liberal newspapers like the New York Times crowing that it "brings democracy to the Senate." It may not have much initial impact, but an already acid-toned atmosphere in the Senate could get worse, if you can believe that. As for legislative impacts, an already feeble attempt to get a farm bill passed could have received still another hurdle. And as noted above, a regulatory president just got a tonic for his weak administration so now expect a cascade of regulations and other orders to pour forth from the White House/administration. Count on it. That includes regulations dealing with climate change, energy and financial regulatory matters. To be fair, some say those are overdue; others say elections have consequences and are gearing up for 2014 and 2016. Fasten your seat belts. But noted election-expert Charlie Cook is out today with an article in the National Journal saying don't expect many members of Congress to lose their seats next year, despite Congress's 9 percent approval rating. One initial impact: Some homeowners under water and would-be home owners will look kindly on the impacts because of coming White House-pushed "reforms" for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.


NOTE: This column is copyrighted material, therefore reproduction or retransmission is prohibited under U.S. copyright laws.






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