Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is coming under increasing pressure not only to close up shop Oct. 1, but also to more narrowly tailor the Senate’s agenda to jobs and the economy.
At a party luncheon Thursday that was supposed to focus on how to frame the debate on extending tax cuts, Democrats instead talked about their fears that taking up a defense authorization bill, as Reid has planned for next week, would be an unwelcome distraction at a crucial time in this election season. Democrats expect to suffer substantial losses in November but are hoping this work session may help them mitigate the damage.
The Senate passed a small-business lending bill Thursday, giving Democrats a pro-jobs vote to tout heading into the final weeks of the campaign season.
Rather than moving next to the defense bill, Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska) said he would prefer to vote on a measure to use the tax code to punish companies that outsource jobs to other countries — or just adjourn after passing a continuing resolution to keep the government funded through the elections.
If Republicans do not block the defense bill from coming up, Democrats could face tough votes on immigration and gays in the military. Plus, leaders fear that Republicans could also force the Senate to stay on the bill and impair their ability to pass a CR that must be enacted by Sept. 30 to avoid a government shutdown.
Much of the discussion Thursday centered around the outsourcing measure. Sources said it could be an amendment to the defense bill or, if that bill is filibustered, a stand-alone bill on the floor next week. However, details on the measure have yet to be worked out. Democratic aides said Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) are working in the bill text.
Begich also said he has pushed Reid to wrap up all Senate business by Oct. 1, instead of the current adjournment date of Oct. 8.
“There are some of us who think we shouldn’t be here when the House goes out,” Begich said. House leaders have indicated their chamber will adjourn Oct. 1.
Begich is not alone. Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) said that during their Thursday meeting, a number of Democrats pushed Reid to wrap up the work period by the end of September. Although Reid has not committed to finishing before October, Rockefeller indicated it appears likely.
“People need to be home who are running, and I don’t think we’ll be here into next month,” Rockefeller said.
Still, Reid spokeswoman Regan Lachapelle said, “as of right now, we’re still planning on being in session through Oct. 8.”
One senior Senate Democratic aide acknowledged, “There are those within the caucus that don’t want to vote on these kinds of issues before the election.” However, the aide said Reid has made it clear that the defense bill debate cannot be completed before the election, indicating he would interrupt it for debate on tax cuts and the CR.
Plus, Democratic fears of Republicans forcing a prolonged defense authorization debate may be unfounded.
“I don’t see us doing a heck of a lot around here,” Budget Committee ranking member Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) said Thursday. Gregg predicted that the only bill that could pass is the CR, warning that Republicans will filibuster the defense bill if Reid continues to block minority amendments.
“The only thing that is going to be done is a CR, because we’re not going to allow a defense authorization bill without amendments,” Gregg said. Reid has set up a Tuesday vote to see whether he can break the threatened GOP filibuster of the defense measure. Democrats will need 60 votes to prevail.
Even the CR could run into GOP opposition, particularly if Democrats move forward with a proposal to expand spending beyond last year’s levels.
“Senate Republicans are going to stand firm that any continuing resolution continue at the levels of last year’s spending,” Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) said.