WASHINGTON — Fresh from shackling the traditional blocking ability of the Senate’s minority party, Democrats are ready to muscle through President Barack Obama’s nominees for pivotal judgeships and other top jobs.
Despite last month’s Democratic power play, Senate Republicans retain the power to slow, though not derail, Obama’s appointments.
Left unchanged were other rules that the out-of-power party could use to grind the chamber’s work to an excruciating crawl. That ranges from requiring clerks to read voluminous bills and amendments to forcing repeated procedural votes.
“There are so many ways of slowing things down in the Senate,” said Robert Dove, the Senate’s former long-time parliamentarian.
Monday starts a two-week, year-end Senate session in which Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., hopes to finish work on a modest budget deal, a defense bill and other lingering items.
It will also be the first test of how Republicans respond to the Democratic changes.
Monday’s meeting marks the chamber’s first since irritable lawmakers left town Nov. 21 for their Thanksgiving break. Earlier that day, Democrats used their 55-45 edge to reshape how filibusters work, trimming the number of votes needed to halt procedural delays against most nominations from 60 to a simple majority.
Democrats pushed through the changes after tiring of what they consider excessive GOP efforts to derail Obama’s nominees. The move angered Republicans, who argue that Democrats frequently tried blocking President George W. Bush’s judicial nominees.
How the GOP responds will become clearer when they return to the Capitol. But in a chamber whose arcane rules give any single senator the ability to throw the brakes on much of its work, partisan friction can hurt.
“The fact is it changes personal relationships with everybody on the other side,” said Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla. “It has damaged the ability of us to move forward.”