McCain warns GOP: Budget conference obstruction will lead to rule changes

The Senate majority is allowed to use a "nuclear option" to change Senate rules through a majority vote. McCain was critical to negotiations earlier this year that resulted in the Senate not significantly changing the rules.

McCain’s remarks came after Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) asked for unanimous consent to form a budget committee conference to work out the differences between the House and Senate budgets. For an 11th time, a GOP senator objected unless the conferees were prohibited from addressing the debt ceiling.

Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) objected to the motion, saying he was worried that the majority would try to raise the debt ceiling through budget reconciliation rules, which allow just 51 votes for passage.

“What is being done here, if we agree that a small number of senators could basically change the way the Senate does business, it could have serious ramifications in the future,” McCain said.

It’s been more than two months since the Senate passed a budget. McCain said a “minority of the minority” was obstructing progress on the budget. He said he was “worried about the precedent this sets” because perhaps the House and Senate will never go to conference ever again.

“What is the process then,” McCain asked Lee? “Doe the Senator from Utah have another way of reconciling legislation between the House and Senate. Of course he doesn’t because that’s the only way we can pass legislation and get it signed by the president.”

Lee said the conference committee would be a “back room closed door” process.

“Conference committees are open to anyone who wants to observe them,” McCaskill said. “The Founding Fathers are shaking their head in disgusted at this.”

McCaskill also criticized Republicans for having called for a return to regular order for four years and yet stopping the process now.

“If you cared about a budget you’d hightail it to conference,” McCaskill said. “No wonder [the public] thinks we’re all losers. … This is not a game, you can’t love the Constitution one day and then blow it up the next.”

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