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Takeaway: Is a standstill in the Senate likely with ensuing search for Justice Scalia's replacement. Can Paul Ryan unite Republicans around a deal?

Editor's Note: Below is a brief excerpt from Potomac Research Group Senior Analyst JT Taylor's Morning Bullets sent to institutional clients each morning. 

SCOTUS SCRAMBLE:

JT Taylor: Replacing Justice Scalia & Paul Ryan's Budgetary Balancing Act - scalia

Expectations for the Senate's productivity this year were already low, but the looming nomination fight over Justice Scalia's replacement threatens to grind the chamber to a standstill. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's decree that any Obama nominee to the Supreme Court would be stonewalled all but invites an "obstructionist" tag for the whole party in the coming election (though we're willing to bet that Harry Reid, if in his shoes, would be using the same playbook). He's caught between the stated goal of "regular order," demonstrating his party's ability to govern, and a much-less ephemeral conservative base that will not countenance a nominee from the current president, period. 

We wonder, why not just let the process work? There are several major hurdles that a nominee faces under normal circumstances -- the Judiciary Committee, a cloture vote, and finally a floor vote -- and there's opportunity throughout for Leadership to slow or block confirmation, with far less risk to the party brand. Not every Senator seems to be adopting the party's hard line -- Judiciary Chair Chuck Grassley said he would at least withhold judgment until a nominee is named, while fellow Judiciary member Thom Tillis warned about the "obstructionist trap" they risk by blocking a SCOTUS pick sight-unseen.

BUDGET BALANCING ACT:

JT Taylor: Replacing Justice Scalia & Paul Ryan's Budgetary Balancing Act - paul ryan

Speaker Paul Ryan, facing stern opposition from conservatives to the budget caps agreed-upon by his predecessor John Boehner, laid out three options for members of his Caucus on Friday:

  1. Re-impose sequestration-level cuts for defense and domestic spending;
  2. Bump up the defense budget, to satisfy hawks, but maintain or lower caps on domestic spending; or
  3. Don't pass a budget at all -- with the budget topline already set for next year, appropriations bulls can still move forward unimpeded.

Options 1 and 2, he stated, would result in the one outcome conservatives hate even more than excess spending: a Democratic blockade in the Senate, followed by an Omnibus appropriations bill crammed down their throats at the end of the year. Option 3 would be an embarrassment for Ryan, former chair of the Budget Committee, and give Democrats yet another attack vector on the party's inability to govern -- but "the sky wouldn't fall," according to the Speaker. Partisan rancor over the SCOTUS shake-up increases the odds that House Republicans will take option 3.