McConnell moved to suspend the rules and shift debate over to the American Jobs Act. Reid argued that doing so amounted to another filibuster, because it required 60 votes to move back to the original bill, and so therefore was out of order. Sen. Mark Begich D-Alaska, who happened to be the presiding officer at the time, asked the Senate parliamentarian what he thought. The parliamentarian advised Begich that McConnells motion was in order.
Reid then appealed the ruling, following a script that advocates of ending the filibuster wrote long ago. What some senators call the “constitutional option,” and what others call the “nuclear option,” involves as a first step appealing a ruling that a filibuster is in order. The second step is to defeat a motion to table that appeal, which is exactly what happened next, with all but one Democrat sticking with Reid. (Sen. Ben Nelson D-Neb. voted against Reid; Sen. Barbara Boxer D-Calif. didnt vote.)
With the chair overruled, McConnells motion was declared out of order, setting a narrow precedent that motions to suspend the rules are out of order during a post-cloture period.
But it also set a more important precedent. The advice of the parliamentarian is considered sacrosanct in the Senate. Reids decision to overrule him opens a gate to similar efforts that could also be done by majority vote. Republicans were quickly threatening to use the new power once they return to the majority. Reid was a proponent of filibuster reform in 2010, but didnt pursue an effort earlier this year to reduce the number of votes needed in the Senate to move legislation forward.
“McConnell likes to think of himself as a parliamentary wizard, but he had his lunch eaten twice today by Harry Reid,” said a Senate Democratic aide.