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Ensign Holding Up Housing Bill

The Senate is currently in a tug of war over germane amendments to the landmark housing bill that has stalled movement on the legislation and is threatening to sap time from other critical bills lawmakers hope to complete before the July Fourth recess.

On Tuesday, Sens. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and John Ensign (R-Nev.) offered an amendment to the housing bill concerning renewable energy tax credits.

While Democrats claim the amendment should be set aside because it isn’t relevant to the housing debate, Ensign is standing in the way of action on the bill until his amendment gets a vote.

And he’s not getting much flak for it personally from Majority Leader Harry Reid (D), who enjoys a good working relationship with Ensign as the junior Senator from his home state of Nevada. Instead, that job appears to have been outsourced to Reid’s second-in-command.

In fact, when speaking to reporters Wednesday afternoon, Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) served as the attack dog against Ensign. Durbin slammed Ensign’s resistance to the housing bill, naming the Nevada Republican as the point person behind the procedural delay.

“Sen. Ensign is holding up progress on the housing bill. It’s interesting that he is doing this,” Durbin said, citing Nevada as having one of the highest rates of home foreclosures in the nation.

The dispute over the Cantwell-Ensign amendment has pitted the two Nevada Senators against one another. Both Reid and Ensign enjoy a healthy friendship and respect one another, but their agendas frequently conflict.

Last week, Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) allegedly made an agreement on the housing bill to allow only relevant amendments. The move signaled a shift toward bipartisanship after recent months when political bickering delayed almost all legislative movement.

McConnell is insisting that the Ensign amendment is relevant to the housing bill, arguing that there was no agreement on amendments with the Majority Leader. McConnell, like Ensign, argues that high energy prices need to be addressed at some point and the housing bill is one of the few vehicles that will actually reach the president’s desk in the near future.

It is unclear how the battle over the amendment will be resolved. An Ensign spokesman said that the junior Senator from Nevada will do everything he can to get a vote on his amendment. Apparently, Democratic leaders offered to place the renewable energy amendment in a second stimulus package being touted by Reid for after the recess, but GOP lawmakers turned that offer down.

In a Wednesday afternoon press conference, Reid threatened to hold the chamber in through the weekend until the housing bill is complete. That could mean that legislation to extend authority for wiretapping terrorist suspects and funding the war in Iraq could slip until after the recess, Reid warned.

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