House Speaker John Boehner joined fellow Republicans in the Senate on Thursday in their battle to stop Democrats controlling that chamber from curbing filibusters, threatening to ignore bills the Senate sends him if Democrats have abused GOP senators' rights to slow consideration of legislation.
The threat by Boehner, R-Ohio, represents an unusual escalation across the Capitol building of a bitter partisan fight that has been brewing in the Senate for weeks. It also underscores a Republican effort to retain as much power as they can next year, when Democrats will control the White House and Senate and Republicans will lead only the House.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has said that on the first day of the new Congress in January, he may take the unusual step of using a simple majority vote to limit filibusters.
Usually it takes a two-thirds vote to change Senate rules. A simple majority would mean Democrats could change the filibuster rules without GOP support, and the threat has infuriated Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and other Republicans. Democrats will control the new Senate 55-45, including one Democratic-leaning independent.
Boehner said that Reid's threat "is clearly designed to marginalize Senate Republicans and their constituents while greasing the skids for controversial, partisan measures."
He added, "Any bill that reaches a Republican-led House based on Senate Democrats' heavy-handed power play would be dead on arrival."
Though the rules change would not occur until next year, Boehner suggested that it might poison the atmosphere even sooner, "at a time when cooperation on Capitol Hill is critical."
President Barack Obama and congressional leaders of both parties are currently bargaining over deficit-cutting measures that would avoid the so-called fiscal cliff of big tax increases and deep spending cuts scheduled to begin in January unless lawmakers find a way to avert them.
Minority parties in the Senate use filibusters — parliamentary delays — to slow or kill legislation. They can only be ended by 60 votes — a margin neither party can achieve without some cooperation from the other side.
Democrats say Republicans are abusing filibusters by resorting to them too frequently, and statistics show minority Republicans have increasingly used the tactic in recent years. Reid's plan would forbid the use offilibusters when a bill is initially being brought to the Senate floor for debate and require filibustering senators to actually be on the Senate floor, a long-abandoned practice.
"It is a shame to see Speaker Boehner join Sen. McConnell's desperate attempt to double down in the status quo of Republican-led gridlock in Washington," said Reid spokesman Adam Jentleson.
Republicans say they have used filibusters more because Reid blocks them from presenting amendments. Reid, in turn, says Republicans use too much time pushing amendments that make political statements or that are designed to derail bills.
The battle has prompted numerous sharp exchanges on the Senate floor in recent days between Reid and McConnell.
Neither side has ruled out negotiating a solution to the dispute.