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John Feehery: The Reid Rule

If Sen. Harry Reid’s rule change on filibusters did anything, it sent a message to the business titans who support Senate Tea Party challengers to Republican incumbents to knock it off. 

Regaining control of the Senate is now more important than ever. 

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Republican strategists have been putting all of their campaign eggs in the ObamaCare basket. The president’s healthcare law, the reasoning goes, will be so unpopular that it will drive base voters to the polls a year from now. 

That’s a risky bet. As we found with the Iran deal over the weekend and with the passage of the nuclear option in the Senate last week, it is hard to keep the attention of the news media — and the voters — on any one issue. 

I think ObamaCare will still prove to be unpopular in the next year, but Republicans have to construct a wider message going into the election year. 

Checking President Obama’s unbridled power is a pretty powerful message. 

And having control of the House is not just good enough in the era of the so-called Reid Rule. 

When Reid (D-Nev.) got his Senate majority to lower the threshold on executive branch and judicial nominations from 60 votes to 50 votes (assuming the vice president could break any tie), he gave tremendous power to the president. 

Obama can stack the court in his image and can put anti-business ideologues in places like the Department of Labor, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Commerce and Agriculture departments. And those ideologues can spend the next three years writing regulations that will govern this country for a generation or more. 

And those regulations will cost the business community trillions of dollars in compliance costs. 

If you are in the coal industry, or if you are a utility that counts on nuclear power, or if you use corn syrup in your breakfast cereal, or if you are a lender or a homebuilder or operate a hedge fund or do any number of things, the Obama administration’s new power should give you pause. 

With 50 votes, the president can afford to lose vulnerable Democrats like Sens. Mark Pryor (Ark.) and Mary Landrieu (La.) and still plow forward with his appointments. 

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Once that precedent is set, what is to stop the majority leader from changing the rule once again to include Supreme Court nominees, should an appointment come available in the last two years of the Obama administration? What is to stop Reid from going for broke in the last congressional session of Obama’s second term and passing a climate change bill or a return to Glass-Steagall banking rules using a 50-vote threshold?

The only thing that could stop that from happening is a Republican majority in the Senate. And the top thing that is stopping Republicans from gaining that majority is a fractured party that’s draining resources from safe seats and producing inferior candidates in winnable states. 

The Tea Party has put up challengers to take on Sens. Mitch McConnell (Ky.), Lindsey Graham (S.C.) and Lamar Alexander (Tenn.). Those challengers won’t win, but their efforts won’t come without a cost, either: Those incumbents will be forced to spend millions of dollars that could have been spent on taking out Democratic incumbents. 

Incumbents like Sens. John Cornyn (Texas) and Pat Roberts (Kan.) are stockpiling money as they position themselves in case a Tea Party challenge should come from their right. 

And in winnable states like Alaska, Georgia and North Carolina, Tea Party candidates like Joe Miller, Paul Broun and Greg Brannon, should they win, would give the Democrats their best chance to keep those states under Democratic control. 

The stakes are higher now than they have ever been, and the Republican Party has to be more united, better positioned and better funded than ever before if it is going to have a chance to slow down the Obama Express. 

 

Feehery is president of Quinn Gillespie Communications and spent 15 years working in the House Republican leadership. He is a contributor to The Hill’s Pundits Blog and blogs at www.thefeeherytheory.com.