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Filibuster Fallout: Reid maneuver could send ‘wrecking ball’ through talks on key legislation

 

Democrats who claimed victory -- including President Obama -- in stripping the Senate minority of its power to block nominations may have done so at the sacrifice of the president's legislative agenda. 

Before Thursday, trust on Capitol Hill was frayed yet there was tentative hope following the bruising fight over the partial shutdown that Republicans and Democrats could find some spectrum of common ground for the rest of Obama's term. Maybe pass a few budgets, maybe do something lasting about that pesky deficit. 

But the move to use a rare parliamentary tactic and overhaul Senate procedure making it easier for the majority party to approve presidential nominees has poisoned an already tainted well. Any prospect for compromise on items ranging from immigration legislation to a fiscal deal to tax reform is now that much fainter. 

"There's no question that the move by Harry Reid will make it much tougher to get anything done between now and 2014," GOP strategist and former long-time Senate aide John Ullyot told FoxNews.com. 

"In the short-term, it's a wrecking ball through any efforts that were underway previously to have both parties work together on key bills." 

Because of the rule change, non-Supreme Court judicial nominees and executive-office nominees can now be approved with just 51 votes, as opposed to 60. 

In the first test of Senate relations following the filibuster change, Republicans united to block a critical defense policy bill.  The bill failed in a vote late Thursday, nine votes short of the number needed to advance. 

Republicans were angry over Democrats' move to limit amendments, but the vote could also reflect new tensions over Reid deploying what's known as the "nuclear option." 

The Senate is now adjourning for the Thanksgiving break, and lawmakers will have time to stew over what just happened. 

The docket, though, is not getting any thinner. Under the terms of the budget resolution in late October, a bipartisan committee is supposed to be hammering out a new deal to keep the government operating into early 2014. The committee is charged with coming up with a plan by Dec. 13, and Congress is facing a January deadline to approve it. Plus they're facing a Feb. 7 deadline to raise the debt ceiling. 

Several lawmakers had already indicated there will be no "grand bargain" this time around, but now the question is whether lawmakers can avoid another partial shutdown. 

The filibuster change, though, means that while legislating could become more difficult, the Obama administration likely will have an easier time passing its own regulations. 

A big part of the reason Reid pushed for the rule change on Thursday was that Democrats were struggling to confirm Obama's nominees to the U.S. Court of Appeals in the District of Columbia. The court is evenly split between Democrats and Republicans, and Republicans have been trying to block three Obama nominees from joining and tilting the balance. Democrats assailed the "obstruction." 

The court is often called the second-most powerful in the country, because it reviews challenges to federal regulations. Everything from ObamaCare to environmental policies could come before the court during the remainder of Obama's term. 

Jay Sekulow, chief counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice, predicted a regulatory rush from this administration thanks to Reid's rule change. 

"The administration's regulatory process is going to be utilized by this White House in ways we never imagined," he told Fox News. 

But Republicans have bluntly warned that Democrats will eventually find themselves in the minority, and dealing with the consequences of the rule change implemented on Thursday. Not only could they be bowled over by majority Republicans, but it could open the door for changing the rules to allow a simple-majority vote for both Supreme Court nominees and even pieces of legislation. 

"They will one day regret this," Republican Leader Mitch McConnell warned in a USA Today op-ed. 

Ullyot, who worked for former Sens. John Warner and Arlen Specter, said a second change in the rules could even come while Democrats are still in power. He predicted Obama will be tempted to blow up the rules once more in order to pass immigration legislation -- which, because of Thursday's development, could have a tougher time clearing a 60-vote hurdle. 

"It's clear that the Senate is headed to simple-majority rule," Ullyot said.

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