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In a videotaped speech to a Christian conservative rally in Louisville, Ky., on Sunday, Senator Frist renewed his call for what Republicans now call the "constitutional option," should Democrats filibuster another judicial nominee. "Now if Senator Reid continues to obstruct the process, we will consider what opponents call the 'nuclear option.' Only in the United States Senate could it be considered a devastating option to allow a vote. Most places call that democracy," Frist said.

At a Monitor breakfast on Monday, Senator Democratic leader Harry Reid gave no signs of backing off the filibuster threat. For the first time, he also laid out plans for a post nuclear-option Senate. "I have always said we wanted to make sure that the Senate went forward, but we're going to do it on our own agenda," he said.

In recent days, Democrats have been quietly putting their own bills on the Senate calendar. Using an obscure Senate procedure called Rule XIV, they plan to move these bills onto the agenda if Republicans "pull the trigger" on the nuclear option. By tradition, it's the Senate majority leader who sets the Senate agenda.

"By invoking the nuclear option, they will have shattered the comity in the Senate, so Democrats won't be bound by the usual way of doing business," says Jim Manley, spokesman for Senate Democrats.

These bills include legislation to reduce the number of unintended pregnancies and abortions by increasing funding for family planning, giving more help to disabled veterans, renewing pay-as-you-go provisions to curb federal deficits, guaranteeing overtime pay for workers, and raising the minimum wage.

Despite two prominent defections, Republicans say they have the votes to win on the Senate floor, should the nuclear or constitutional option come to a vote. Some Democrats dispute that vote count. "It would already have come to a head if they had the votes," Senator Reid said.

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