Friday, March 7, 2014
WASHINGTON - Six months after side-stepping a parliamentary meltdown, the U.S. Senate is once again in a "nuclear" standoff.
Sen. Angus King arrives at the Capitol.
Telegram 2013 File Photo
And Maine's two U.S. senators could find themselves on opposing sides.
The issue centers on the filibuster, a parliamentary tactic so revered that it was the climax of a 74-year-old movie ("Mr. Smith Goes to Washington") still widely loved by political junkies and government teachers. But the filibuster is also often reviled by those in the majority who are repeatedly unable to break its 60-vote threshold -- a role that the current Senate Democrats know all too well.
Democrats and Republicans agreed -- supposedly -- to play nicer with each other at the beginning of the year. Republicans would limit the number of filibusters and Democrats would allow more debate and amendments.
But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid -- frustrated with what he says are continued Republican stall tactics -- is threatening to tweak the rules this Tuesday to essentially prevent the minority party from requiring 60 votes to move forward with consideration of executive branch nominees. Republicans warn any such move could lead to the eventual demise of the filibuster, making the Senate like the House, where the majority party really does rule.
Maine Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican, has been outspoken that the minority party should not filibuster presidential Cabinet picks except in extraordinary circumstances. But Collins is siding with her party when it comes to the so-called "nuclear option" put forward by Reid, and she continues to oppose the National Labor Relations Board nominees at the center of the current dispute.
"My fervent hope is we will not reopen the rules debates that were settled at the beginning of the year," Collins said, adding she hopes an agreement will emerge from the special meeting Monday night in the Capitol's rarely used Old Senate Chamber. "I also think there needs to be a show of good faith on my side of the aisle to move nominees."
Sen. Angus King, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats, campaigned on the need for filibuster reform and supported more sweeping changes proposed by other Democrats.
But after a proposal to expand background checks on gun sales failed to move forward despite the support of the majority of senators, King said he didn't believe the deal brokered in January was working.
"Senator King is not eager to change the rules of the Senate, but believes the president's nominees, regardless of political party, deserve a majority vote by the Senate," King's spokesman, Scott Ogden, said last week.
Former Maine Sens. George Mitchell and Olympia Snowe played a critical role in helping negotiate an agreement (albeit a still-controversial one) among 17 major North American retailers to improve safety conditions at Bangladeshi garment factories.
It turns out there was another Maine connection on the small negotiating team.
Shamarukh Mohiuddin, executive director of the U.S. Bangladesh Advisory Council, which works to strengthen ties between the two countries, is a graduate of the University of Maine in Orono with degrees in international affairs and financial economics.
That means three of the seven non-retailer members of the negotiating group organized by the Bipartisan Policy Center had Maine ties.
THINGS TO WATCH THIS WEEK
• Sen. Angus King and several bipartisan Senate colleagues hit a setback on Thursday when a compromise they developed to reform student loan interest rates came back with a large price tag that would likely have scuttled support for the bill. Expect King and others to work more on the issue this week as they try to broker a deal before this fall's crop of students are locked into higher rates.
• Candidates for both Congress and Maine governor are required to file their latest campaign contribution and spending reports by Monday evening. We already know some of the ballpark figures, but the reports tell us who donated, which helps gauge support within Maine for a candidate.
• A Senate appropriations subcommittee will hold a hearing on Wednesday on the 2014 budget for the Missile Defense Agency. There might be some clues as to where on the East Coast the Obama administration is potentially looking to build a new ground-based missile defense facility (Aroostook County is sometimes mentioned as a candidate) or how seriously the agency is considering the expansion.
Kevin Miller can be contacted at 317-6256 or at: