Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is set for a showdown Tuesday over Republicans’ use of the filibuster to block presidential nominees, while the House returns this week to consider legislation that would delay the central provision of President Obama’s health care reforms.
Senate Democrats, exasperated by GOP opposition to the president’s nominees, including posts in his cabinet, are threatening to reduce Republicans influence by virtually eliminating filibusters at a time when seven previously blocked nominees come up for a vote this week.
The nominees include Gina McCarthy, Obama’s pick to head the Environmental Protection Agency; Thomas Perez, tapped to head the Labor Department; and Richard Cordray, who was installed as head of the newly created Consumer FInancial Protection Bureau in a recess appointment that is now under review by the Supreme Court.
While Republicans may help 55 Democrats reach the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster and clear McCarthy and Perez, they indicated earlier that they may try to block Cordray and three nominees to the National Labor Relations Board.
If the GOP blocks the nominations, Reid has threatened to “go nuclear,” by changing Senate rules so that only 51 votes are needed to clear executive nominees instead of 60, effectively giving Democrats the power to push through nominees despite Republican opposition.
Reid would allow the change in rules with a simple majority vote that Republicans say would damage the way the Senate operates and destroy any chance of future bipartisan cooperation on important legislation.
In the House, Republicans will have no problem finding a simple majority to pass legislation that would delay the individual mandate needed to fund the president’s health care reforms.
The GOP spent the last three years voting to repeal Obamacare only to have all of those efforts killed in the Democratically led Senate. But Republicans believe their latest effort has new momentum now that Obama has decided to delay another provision of the law, the employer mandate requiring companies with more than 50 employees to provide health insurance.
The “Fairness for American Families Act,” scheduled for a Wednesday vote, would change the date of implementation of the individual mandate from Dec. 31, 2013, to the same day in 2014.
The mandate requires everyone to either buy health insurance or pay a penalty.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said the Obama administration’s decision to delay only the employer mandate is “unfair and indefensible.”
The legislation may never get consideration in the Senate, but it will put political pressure on Democrats in both chambers who fear that opposing the bill will make it appear as if they are providing a break to big business but not individuals.
Even though Obama has already announced a delay of the employer mandate based on his own authority. But the House insists that such a crucial change requires congressional approval and lawmakers will take up the “Authority for Mandate Delay Act” that would allow them to vote on whether to authorize an action the president has already authorized.
The bill’s author, Rep. Tim Griffin, R-Ark., said the legislation is required because “only Congress can change the law.”
Education and Defense
The House this week may also take up a bill to reduce the federal government’s role in education.
House Republican leaders said they may also consider the Department of Defense’s 2014 budget bill.