Reid Delays Debate on Veterans Bill to Accommodate Clinton, Obama

Posted April 22, 2008 at 8:23pm

After days of castigating Republicans for allegedly stalling a veterans benefits package, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) himself decided to postpone the start of the debate — and, indeed the start of Wednesday’s session — until 5 p.m. in order to accommodate the schedules of his party’s presidential hopefuls, Democratic sources said. Sens. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) insisted on being allowed to vote on an unrelated measure that under a previous agreement will occur just prior to the start of the veterans debate. That vote is expected to fail. Reid’s unusual decision prompted denunciations from Senate Republicans, who accused Reid of hypocrisy after spending days attacking the GOP for delaying the veterans bill. “It totally undercuts what they’ve been saying all day. It’s a Democrat filibuster of the veterans bill,” said Don Stewart, spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky). “It’s ironic that after complaining about us stalling all day, they’re going to shut the Senate down until Reid’s Members can get off the campaign trail long enough to vote on a bill that isn’t even going to pass,” Stewart added. But Reid spokesman Jim Manley contended that the Democratic leader’s decision was in fact a result of Republicans’ objections to the veterans bill. “Sen. Reid offered the Republicans exactly what they said they wanted: a chance to spend all day debating the Veterans Benefits Enhancement Act. To do so, however, he asked that we move the time of the vote on the Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. In typical obstructionist fashion, Republicans refused to do so,” Manley said. For days, Democrats have made increasingly bitter accusations against Republicans over their opposition to portions of the veterans bill, culminating in an angry outburst on the floor at midday Tuesday by Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.). But by the end of the day, Reid’s impatience to start work on the bill had waned, largely due to the fact that Clinton and Obama would not be available to vote on the equal rights measure until late in the day on Wednesday. Indeed, in a floor statement on his decision to postpone the debate, Reid himself acknowledged the two lawmakers’ absence. “And it’s certainly no secret to anyone, we have a number of Senators who want to vote on that matter and we would ask that that be the schedule,” Reid said. But angered by Reid’s days-long procedural message assault, Republicans refused, forcing Reid’s hand. Ultimately his only choice was to delay the start of Wednesday’s session, because under Senate rules the vote on the motion to begin debate must occur one day and one hour after cloture has been invoked, which occurred Tuesday morning. It’s unclear why Reid, Obama and Clinton have insisted that they be present for the equal rights vote. While it is a popular measure with Democrats and liberal interest groups, Republicans have more than enough votes to block it Wednesday, making the vote a largely symbolic one.