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First Read Flash: Nuclear Negotiating

Farewell to the filibuster?
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nev. gestures as he speaks with reporters on Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, July 9, 2013 (Photo by J. Scott Applewhite/AP)
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nev. gestures as he speaks with reporters on Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Farewell to the filibuster?

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D- Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) engaged in a heated debate on the Senate floor Thursday over Reid’s threats to change Senate rules. Democrats are particularly frustrated with what they see as an unnecessary partisan blockade on executive branch nominees.

Under Reid’s proposed change—known as the “nuclear option”—only 51 votes would be required to break a filibuster, rather than the current 60 votes needed. Reid’s proposal would only apply to executive branch nominations.

But there is fear that such a change could eventually lead to an end to the filibuster even in legislation and judicial nominations.

Republican senators were infuriated by Reid’s threats, many of them saying that such a move would be detrimental.

“It will be the end of the Senate,” warned Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.).

It is unclear if Reid will follow through with his threats or if he is using them as leverage to motivate action on nominees. But the discussion alone has prompted a rare joint meeting.

The New York Times reported that senators from both parties plan to meet on Monday at 6 p.m. in the Old Senate Chamber to discuss the implications of this rule change.

Second chance for the Farm Bill

The House narrowly passed a revised version of an agricultural funding bill Thursday after an embarrassing episode in June, which left the GOP unable to pass its own bill. No Democrats voted for the bill.

This time around the bill was stripped of funding for food stamps and food aid for the poor, which has been a regular component of the bill in recent history.

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) has said he will bring the nutrition piece back as a separate bill, but most observers are not hopeful that the notoriously divisive House will be able to pass food assistance programs.

The House’s bill will now go to conference with the Senate’s legislation, but it is unclear what type of agreement the two chambers will be able to reach.

National Journal reports that Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) explained the House is working to "expedite" an agreement on a final bill with the Senate. However no specific timeline has been given.

Student loans deal stalled

A student loan proposal offered by Senate Democrats failed to move forward this week. Democrats offered a deal that would leave interest rates on subsidized Stafford loans for low- and moderate-income students at the current 3.4% for one more year.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office found that the proposal would cost $22 billion over 10 years, news that fueled to the deal’s demise.

But Senators are awaiting a final, more comprehensive CBO score as they continue discussions to modify the deal.

The House passed a bill in May setting tying interest rates to the financial markets, up to 8.5 percent and the President has urged Congress to extend current rates, but it is unclear if the two chambers will find a workable solution before the fall semester begins.