Gridlock is the order of the day in Washington political circles, with even routine matters falling victim to obstructionist tactics for the sake of cheap partisan gains. But a recent procedural move by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) may have just poured a huge cup of molasses over the whole dysfunctional system – and killed any chance of a federal online poker bill passing in 2011.
The drama unfolded late Thursday night, after the Senate had voted to end debate on a bill that would impose sanctions on China for manipulating its currency. Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) then introduced a motion for a vote to suspend Senate rules in order to allow debate on an unrelated amendment – a pseudo-filibuster tactic traditionally employed by the minority party in the Senate. McConnell’s motion – the ninth such motion introduced by the Republicans – was ruled in order by the Senate’s presiding officer.
But in a move that stunned onlookers, a frustrated Reid called for a snap vote to overrule that ruling, which passed by a vote of 51-48. This ‘majority rules’ vote – the so-called ‘nuclear option’ – sets a precedent that effectively strips the minority party of its ability to offer unrelated amendments after the Senate has agreed to end debate on a bill. In practical terms, the precedent is relatively inconsequential, as no such post-debate motion to suspend the rules has succeeded since 1941. But in the current über-partisan climate, Reid’s power play has left Republicans crying treason and vowing revenge.
Sen. Mike Johanns (R-NE) said Reid “wants to run the Senate like he’s king.” Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) tweeted a one-word rebuttal: “Tyranny.” Eric Ueland, who acted as chief of staff to former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, predicted Reid would pay a stiff price. “Usually, if you set off a nuke, you’re responsible for the fallout.” A Republican leadership aide told The Hill that “Reid fired a major salvo and it’s hard to imagine a return shot won’t be fired.” Other GOP aides predicted that their bosses would be “even more reluctant to allow the Senate to conduct routine business … forcing Reid to gather 60 votes for even the most mundane matters.”
What about less mundane matters, like, say, passing an online poker bill? It’s no secret that most of the opposition to online poker in the Senate has traditionally come from the Republican side. Moreover, everyone knows that online poker is Reid’s personal baby – regardless of what proxy senator Reid enlists to actually introduce the bill this time around. Republicans also know how beholden Reid is to the Nevada-based casino giants for their financial support over the years, and how annoyed they will be if Reid fails to deliver the online poker toys under their Christmas tree.
Bwin.party co-CEO Jim Ryan made a fearless prediction regarding a US online poker bill in Saturday’s New York Times. “It’s no longer a question of if, it’s a question of when it will be passed.” That question now has an answer: not this year.