Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and two rogue Republicans were in a high-stakes game of chicken Wednesday night that threatened to force the Senate to stay in session through the weekend.
Sens. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) and John Ensign (R-Nev.) both said they were willing to run out the clock on a major housing bill decisions that put in jeopardy Democrats plan to use the Fourth of July recess to hail the passage of a measure designed to slow the pace of home foreclosures and inject some liquidity into housing markets.
As of press time Wednesday, Reid was mulling whether to drive the housing measure to completion prior to the recess, as he had earlier vowed, or to put the bill on hold and allow Senators to go home after passing a wartime supplemental spending bill and a rewrite of foreign surveillance laws.
Senate Democratic aides confirmed that Reid was coming under pressure from some quarters in the Democratic caucus to finish the housing bill, which Democrats had hoped to tout back home.
Reids talk on the floor Wednesday night was tough: There will be no going home [Thursday] unless we complete the things that we are obligated to the American people to complete. Some say that may mean were going to have to be here on Saturday. Yes, it may mean we have to be here Saturday, because thats the way it is.
Reid went so far as to threaten to keep the Senate in session next week, even as he held open the possibility that the housing measure would not be completed until after July 4.
Reid also threatened to put off final action on other must-pass Republican priorities, such as the supplemental and the warrantless wiretapping bill, until after the Fourth of July recess if it was necessary to ensure passage of the housing measure. We have other things we have to vote on or the war funding wont come forward, Reid said.
Though DeMint is one of 16 Republicans who oppose the housing bill, he stood firm Wednesday. I dont intend to allow any unanimous consents to shorten the debate time on the housing bill, DeMint said.
He added that it would probably be Saturday or Sunday if Reid wants to make the Senate jump through several time-consuming procedural hoops to pass the measure.
Reid spokesman Rodell Mollineau indicated that Republicans and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) will shoulder the blame for holding up the housing bill, which is supported by all Democrats and 35 Republicans, including McConnell.
Democrats have been working to get a housing bill done for months, so we have no further comment other than to refer you to Sen. McConnell, Mollineau said. He must explain why he cannot get his caucus behind him to help the millions of Americans at risk of losing their homes. Or perhaps it would be better to refer you to co-Minority Leader DeMint, who seems to be the one who really pulls the strings in McConnells caucus.
Reid was already having trouble getting the housing bill completed before DeMints decision to delay its passage.
Ensign was blocking other Senators from having votes on their amendments in an attempt to secure a vote on his proposal to extend several expiring tax cuts without offsetting the costs with revenue raisers elsewhere.
Senate Democrats attempted to move a tax extender bill earlier this month, but Republicans blocked it because they objected to the revenue raisers used to offset its cost.
Ensign said Wednesday that he would hold the bill up as long as possible to ensure his amendment was considered.
I dont have any problem being an obstructionist when youre trying to do something good for the country, said Ensign, who argued the tax extenders include energy tax provisions that would create jobs and spur investment in alternative energy solutions.
Even so, Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Chairman Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) said DeMint and Ensign are just delaying the bills inevitable passage, considering that more than 80 Senators support the measure.
Its like passing a gallstone, Dodd said. Were going to get there, but its painful.
Despite the hiccups on the housing measure, the Senate appeared to be moving forward on the FISA rewrite, even with strong opposition from a faction of Democrats opposed to granting telecommunications companies immunity. The Senate voted 80-15 on Wednesday night to proceed to the wiretapping bill, a sign that the measure will eventually pass as well.
Additionally, Reid said he is committed this week to passing a bill designed to prevent doctors who serve Medicare patients from taking a pay cut, as well as a Federal Aviation Administration bill. Passage of the Iraq War supplemental is likely to be the last vote before Senators leave for the Fourth of July recess.