The nuclear option — otherwise known as an arcane filibuster reform that would allow a bill to pass by a majority in the Senate, as opposed to the 60 votes needed to override a filibuster — is back in the wings of the Senate as the shutdown meets the debt limit in Congress this week. The proposal, this time from Senate liberals instead of from Reid himself, would in theory allow the Senate to raise the debt limit with a majority vote.
According to Politico, some Democrats would like to use the "nuke" as a threat in order to gain the six Republican votes needed to overcome an assumed filibuster on a vote to raise the limit. The measure, if passed, would throw the debt limit debate back into the hands of the House. The Senate is expected to vote on the limit hike on Saturday. Both houses of Congress need to pass something that raises the debt limit by October 17, or, the Treasury warns, we'll start defaulting on our loans.
The return of the filibuster reform idea is likely aimed in part at Senator Ted Cruz, who earlier this year called the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster the "traditional" threshold for raising the debt limit. But if Senate Democrats decided to go nuclear, instead of just strategically floating the idea as is the usual use of the "nuclear option," it's not clear whether they'd have enough votes to get it done. Here's the Washington Post:
It’s simple math. Lautenberg’s passing means Dems now only have 54 votes in the Senate. (His temporary Republican replacement can’t be expected to back rules reform.) Aides who are tracking the vote count tell me that Senator Carl Levin (a leading opponent of the “nuke option” when it was ruled out at the beginning of the year, leading to the watered down bipartisan filibuster reform compromise) is all but certain to oppose any rules change by simple majority. Senators Patrick Leahy and Mark Pryor remain question marks. And Senator Jack Reed is a Maybe. If Dems lose those four votes, that would bring them down to 50. And, aides note, that would mean Biden’s tie-breaking vote would be required to get back up to the 51 required for a simple Senate majority. That’s an awfully thin margin for error.
After yet another super exciting and productive day in Congress, the Republicans also have some new ideas: namely, that a debt default can't possibly be as bad as everyone says it is. Here's what they're thinking, according to the New York Times:
A surprisingly broad section of the Republican Party is convinced that a threat once taken as economic fact may not exist — or at least may not be so serious. Some question the Treasury’s drop-dead deadline of Oct. 17. Some government services might have to be curtailed, they concede. “But I think the real date, candidly, the date that’s highly problematic for our nation, is Nov. 1,” said Senator Bob Corker, Republican of Tennessee. Others say there is no deadline at all — that daily tax receipts would be more than enough to pay off Treasury bonds as they come due.
So, there you have it: The beginning of shutdown, Week Two. The Senate Democrats are threatening to go nuclear and change the rules under an arcane process to try and pass something to avoid disaster, while many Republicans believe the disaster quickly approaching is about as real as the Loch Ness Monster.