November 22, 2013
Don't go in there! It's radioactive still! (Anonymous / The Associated Press) Don’t go in there! It’s still radioactive! (Associated Press)

They did it. They actually did it.

Thursday night found Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid exercising what the people who specialize in making everything in Washington into ominous metaphors (see: Fiscal Cliff, Debt Ceiling, Giant Platinum Coin) like to call “the Nuclear Option” — changing the rules of the Senate so that judicial and executive branch nominees no longer require a filibuster-proof majority.

I am reading the news from a bunker many miles below the Senate, where I have been huddled ever since hearing that Reid exercised the nuclear option.

Every so often I hear an ominous rumbling from the surface.

All I know of what has happened to life on the surface is from flickering images that pop up periodically on my TV screen.

The Senate has been replaced by a frozen swamp from which no legislation escapes without being hideously mutated, if it makes it out at all. That is to say, now it matches the House. Washington is now a radioactive wasteland that nothing touches without becoming forever toxic to voters back home. Traffic is backed up on the beltway for hours, presumably by people gaping at the sheer magnitude of the disaster.

But everything else is different.

The smoking remains of the Senate procedural rules, more than 200 years old but still quite vigorous, lie on the Mall for all to see, alarming a few tourists in Hazmat suits.

A spider straying too close to the Senate chamber mushroomed to eight times its original size, then bit Sen. Lindsey Graham on the leg. Oddly, this gave him less power than he had before. He shrank away into the sewer tunnels below the Dirksen building, where Sen. Ted Cruz was already squatting, staring aghast at Sen. Rand Paul.

“Hiss,” Cruz said, feebly.

“You’ve been trying this for hours,” Paul said, sounding exhausted. “We’ve established that you cannot breathe fire any longer. And I can’t turn things to specie with my touch any more. We’ve established this, Ted. Stop salting the wound.”

“I’m going to do it this time,” Cruz said. He sounded broken. He puffed himself up to his full height (already a foot shorter than previously), furrowed his brow and exhaled noisily.

“Ted,” Paul said, “I get it. It’s okay. Just tell yourself: 2016.”

“2016,” Cruz murmured, rocking back and forth. “2016.”

“2014!” Graham suggested. “Why wait?”

Sen. Mitch McConnell came crawling into the tunnels next to them, looking the worse for wear. “Is there anything down here I can obstruct?” he asked. “I need to–”

Graham shook his head. “That’s what got us into this mess.”

“You seen what happened to John McCain?” McConnell asked.

Graham exhaled noisily. “You — you don’t want to see that,” he said. “Trust me.”

Meanwhile, on the surface, several senators in suits with the proportional powers of other creatures caught in the blast — a pigeon, an ant and a guy who was just selling hats to tourists, respectively — stood there shooting the breeze on the frozen tundra that had replaced the Senate.

“You seen Harry?” Sen. Elizabeth Warren asked, suddenly getting really interested by a french fry on the wreckage of the pavement. “Hey! French fry! Let’s all go sit on a statue.” She frowned. “This is a terrible power. I wish I’d been bitten by anything else.”

“He’s standing in the middle of the Beltway flipping trucks with his bare hands, shouting, ‘POWER! UNLIMITED POWER!’” Sen. Carl Levin said, lifting the Statue of Freedom out of the wreckage and waving it around. “Huh, this is cool.”

“Typical Harry,” Sen. Al Franken said, offering her a hat. “Discount! Special commemorative nuclear option hat! Keep you warm in the nuclear winter.”

Sen. Harry Reid, who has somehow acquired the ability to fly, goes soaring by overhead, glowing and blue, threads of fire shooting from his fingertips. “WE ARE GOING TO APPROVE SO MANY JUDICIAL AND EXECUTIVE BRANCH APPOINTMENTS, YOU HAVE NO IDEA!” he shouted. “MAJORITY RULES!”

From the sewers, the fallen gaze up at his crackling blue presence.

“One day,” McConnell murmured, “that’ll be me.”

Gradually the variably mutated legislative body comes crawling back to the giant hole where the chamber once stood, to resume the exercise of power.

The only casualties were Consensus and Even Theoretical Consensus and Doing Things In A Bipartisan Way, all of which had been on life support anyway. The Traditional Function of the Senate As A Cooling Saucer For Hot Scalding House Legislation, at time of writing, was in critical condition. The Ability to Filibuster Supreme Court Nominees claimed it was fine, but it had a weird cough. So did Filibustering Any Legislation That People Really Like, for that matter.

But hey, like many District residents, I now have a bonus eye and sometimes I glow for long periods of time, so — there’s an upside.

Alexandra Petri writes the ComPost blog, offering a lighter take on the news and opinions of the day.
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