WASHINGTON (AP) — Democrats quickly enjoyed the first fruits of a milestone Senate vote making it harder for the Republican minority to block President Barack Obama's nominations: They swiftly ended a GOP filibuster against one of his top judicial selections and prepared to do the same for two others.
Over the longer term, they might regret what they did and how they did it, Republicans and others are warning.
When Democrats muscled the changes through Thursday over the opposition of every GOP senator, it helped heighten Congress' already high level of partisan animosity. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., used a process that let Democrats unilaterally weaken the filibuster by simple majority vote, rather than the two-thirds margin usually used for major changes in chamber rules, which would have required GOP support.
"If the majority can change the rules, then there are no rules," said veteran Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who has resisted similar changes in the past. "It puts a chill on the entire U.S. Senate."
Such comments suggested a further erosion in the mutual trust the two parties would need to tackle sensitive, large-scale issues like still-massive budget deficits and a tax system overhaul. The tensions also won't help Congress' efforts early next year to avoid another government shutdown and prevent a federal default, twin disputes that the two parties struggled to resolve this fall.
And even though Thursday's change left intact the 60 Senate votes needed to filibuster, or delay, legislation, it raised an obvious question: Might a future Senate majority, hitting obstacles advancing a president's agenda, ram through changes weakening filibusters against bills too?
In control of both the White House and Congress someday, Senate Republicans might be tempted to force a filibuster change to cover legislation and use it, for example, to repeal Obama's health care law.
"I don't think this is a time to be talking about reprisals," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said after the vote. He said later, "The solution to this problem is at the ballot box. We look forward to having a great election in November 2014."
McConnell spoke after the Senate voted 52-48 to allow a simple majority vote to end filibusters, instead of the 60 votes required since 1975. The change affects nominees for top federal agency and judicial appointments, but not Supreme Court justices.
Republicans had warned repeatedly that should they win Senate control, they will happily use the diluted filibuster to win Senate approval for future nominees by GOP presidents that under past standards Democrats might have blocked.
"The silver lining is that there will come a day when the roles are reversed," said Iowa Sen. Charles Grassley, top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee. He warned that when his party wins a Senate majority they likely will apply the 51-vote filibuster threshold to a Republican president's Supreme Court nominees.
"The tyranny of the majority. That's what it's going to be" at some point in the future, predicted Steve Bell, a former top Senate Republican aide who is now a senior director at the Bipartisan Policy Center, which advocates partisan cooperation.
Democrats said GOP delays had gone too far, blocking nominees not for their qualifications or ideology but for political reasons like preventing too many Democrats from serving on a court.
Republicans argued that Democrats have acted similarly to block appointments by GOP presidents and warned they would use Senate rules to their advantage whenever they win control of the chamber.
"We understand all the considerations," Reid said of the risks. "But let's be realistic. What could they do more to slow down the country? What could they do more than what they've already done to stop the Senate from legislating?"
"We'd much prefer the risk of up-or-down votes and majority rule than the risk of continued total obstruction," said New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, the No. 3 Senate Democratic leader.
Immediately after the showdown roll call, senators voted to end GOP delays against attorney Patricia Millett, whom Obama wants to fill one of three vacancies at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. The powerful court has jurisdiction over White House and federal agency actions.
Millett will be formally confirmed after the Senate returns from a two-week Thanksgiving recess.
December votes were also planned on District Judge Robert L. Wilkins and law professor Cornelia Pillard, two other Obama choices Republicans had blocked for the D.C. Circuit. That will give judges picked by Democratic presidents a 7-4 edge over those selected by Republicans for that court.
Labor and liberal groups hailed the filibuster curbs, expressing satisfaction that Democrats had finally stood up to the GOP.
"There was no choice," said Nan Aron, president of the liberal coalition Alliance for Justice. "The Republican minority had turned the existing rules into weapons of mass obstruction."
But Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, one of three Democrats who voted against diluting the filibuster, noted that past Democratic minorities have used the procedure to block GOP moves to limit abortion rights and repeal the estate tax.
He said he feared that a future Senate majority would weaken filibusters against legislation and "down the road, the hard-won protections and benefits for our people's health and welfare will be lost."
U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill (D) is chiding House Republicans for failing to allow an up-or-down vote on a so-called "clean funding" bill.
McCaskill released a statement as the midnight deadline passed in Washington, saying the government shutdown will upset economic recovery. She criticized House Speaker John Boehner (R), calling his handing of the budget process "irresponsible political posturing."
The St. Louis County Democrat says the federal government shutdown will hurt Missourians by delaying veterans' benefits, causing furloughs for 39,000 federal employees in Missouri, delaying loans for small businesses and Social Security checks for seniors enrolling in the program for the first time.
During an interview with CNN's Wolfe Blitzer Monday evening, 2nd District Congresswoman Ann Wagoner (R) said the House GOP were the only ones working to avoid the shutdown.
The St. Louis County Republican criticized Senate leadership and President Obama for failing to negotiate over the weekend.
Wagoner issued a statement after the midnight deadline saying that she has waived her salary for the duration of the government shutdown "because congress didn't get the job done." Wagoner blamed the deadlock on "partisan bickering."
WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. Senate has passed a historic immigration bill. The vote on the bipartisan measure -- crafted by a group of lawmakers known as the Gang of Eight, was 68-32. It now goes to the House.
The legislation offers the hope of American citizenship to millions, while promising a military-style surge to secure the border.
The vote was far more than the majority needed to send the measure to the House. Prospects there are not nearly as good and many conservatives are opposed.
Vice President Joe Biden presided, and senators cast their votes from their desks, both steps reserved for momentous votes. The bill, a priority for President Barack Obama, would amount to the most sweeping changes in decades to the nation's immigration laws.
Illinois Senator Dick Durbin wants consumers to pay sales tax on their purchases, whether they shop in a local store, or online.
Consumers are already supposed to pay sales tax for online purchases. But very few do since there's no uniform collection method, and the onus to pay is placed on the consumer, not the retailer. In Illinois, for instance, those who file state tax returns are asked to list their online purchases and pay sales tax for them.
Durbin says the current rules are not fair to brick and mortar stores, who must collect sales tax from their customers. Durbin has sponsored a bill that would require Internet stores to do the same.
The Senate will soon begin debate on the Market Fairness Act. It could be voted on as early as this week.
Missouri Senators Claire McCaskill and Roy Blunt have both said they favor the move.
Senate Democrats: $46.5 trillion
House Republicans: $41.7 trillion
Senate Democrats: $41.2 trillion
House Republicans: $40.2 trillion
Senate Democrats: $5.4 trillion
House Republicans: $1.4 trillion
National debt at end of 2023
Senate Democrats: $24.4 trillion
House Republicans: $20.3 trillion
Senate Democrats: $11.3 trillion
House Republicans: $11.3 trillion
Senate Democrats: $6.8 trillion
House Republicans: $6.7 trillion
Health, including Medicaid and the State Children's Health Insurance Program
Senate Democrats: $6.6 trillion
House Republicans: $4.0 trillion
Senate Democrats: $6.0 trillion
House Republicans: $6.2 trillion
Income security, including housing assistance, cash benefits and food stamps
Senate Democrats: $5.6 trillion
House Republicans: $5.0 trillion
Interest on national debt
Senate Democrats: $5.2 trillion
House Republicans: $4.5 trillion
Veterans benefits and services
Senate Democrats: $1.7 trillion
House Republicans: $1.7 trillion
International Affairs, including foreign aid
Senate Democrats: $506 billion
House Republicans: $431 billion
Education, training, employment and social services
Senate Democrats: $1.1 trillion
House Republicans: $906 billion
Senate Democrats: $919 billion
House Republicans: $801 billion
Senate Democrats: $205 billion House Republicans: $196 billion
Natural resources and environment
Senate Democrats: $474 billion
House Republicans: $385 billion
Community and regional development
Senate Democrats: $268 billion
House Republicans: $88 billion
Sources: Senate Democratic and House Republican budget proposals.