Should the Senate go ahead with the nuclear option, the poisoned atmosphere could stall passage of several important items moving through Congress like tax reform, judicial nominations, government spending bills and a debt ceiling increase. Even a relatively modest rewrite of student loan laws could be in jeopardy, meaning students headed to school this fall would have to pay higher interest rates.
But Democrats say the pain will only be temporary.
A top Democratic aide said, "The immediate aftermath will be messy. The GOP will shut down the Senate and they will keep it locked down until there are tangible impacts from inaction. Only then, when people start to realize that their lawmakers are not working on the farm bill, immigration, budget and other issues, will they pick up the phone and call their lawmakers."
While the measure would only apply to executive branch nominees, Republicans argue Democrats would try to expand the option to other votes.
Reid said the change he is proposing is "very minimal," applying only to Cabinet and executive branch positions.
"This is not judges, this is not legislation - this has allowing the people of America to have a president who can have his team in place," Reid said on NBC's "Meet the Press." "This is nothing like what went on" in 2005.
Appearing later on the same program, McConnell seemed to tamp down some of the spite. Three days after saying Reid would be remembered as the worst Senate leader ever, McConnell said Reid was "a reasonable man, he's a good majority leader."