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Reid calls GOP threats on filibuster changes ‘silly’; showdown may come Tuesday

WASHINGTON — Sen. Harry Reid on Monday dismissed Republican threats to open Yucca Mountain for nuclear waste if he changes Senate filibuster rules, saying he doubted they would follow through on them.

Majority leader Reid described GOP efforts to link a fight over Senate rules to the controversial Nevada project as “silly,” and part of a “sky is falling” strategy to head off a showdown on the filibuster that could come as soon as tomorrow.

“That bothered me about as much as the color of your tie today … which doesn’t bother me at all,” Reid told a reporter who asked about Yucca Mountain during his presentation at the Center for American Progress.

In a speech at the progressive policy think tank, Reid sounded determined to force change that would prevent Republicans from blocking President Barack Obama’s nominees for Cabinet posts and top federal agency jobs that require Senate confirmation.

By a maneuver on the Senate floor nicknamed the “nuclear option,” Reid wants to change the body’s rules with just a 51-vote majority, rather than the two-thirds vote usually necessary to amend Senate rules.

Once in place, executive branch nominations could be passed by a simple majority vote, rather than the 60 votes required to stop a filibuster. Reid has charged Republicans with obstructing the Senate’s business and preventing Obama from assembling a second-term team.

Republicans say Reid and Obama want them to “sit down and shut up” when it comes to high-level appointments. If Reid changes the filibuster rules for executive branch nominations, they have said the rules could further be changed to prevent filibusters on judicial nominations and legislation

If or when Republicans gain control of the Senate, several have said they would pass Yucca Mountain bills with a 51-vote majority — a smack at Reid, the Nevada senator who has used his leadership position to prevent nuclear waste bills from advancing.

Still, there remain deep pockets of support for the nuclear waste program that Obama, at Reid’s urging, canceled soon after he became president.

In several test votes last week, the House supported reviving the program by votes better than three-to-one. In the Senate, Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., has said there are at least 51 votes in favor of it.

But Reid said today that while there is support for changing filibuster rules on nominations, there is little if any support for broader change “if (Republicans) are in power or anyone else is in power.

“If they want to change the rules … more power to them. I think they would rue the day they did it. They are not going to do that. We are not going to do that.”

Reid has called for votes Tuesday on seven Obama nominees whose appointments have been stalled. He indicated he would deploy the “nuclear option” unless Republicans agree to pass all seven.

Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at stetreault@stephensmedia.com or 202-783-1760. Follow him on Twitter @STetreaultDC.

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