Senate Will Try to Push Defense Bill Next Week

Posted September 18, 2010 at 9:53am

Senate Democrats will try to make headway on a defense authorization measure next week, but it is not clear whether they can generate the 60 votes need to overcome GOP resistance to the bill.

Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) acknowledged on the floor this week that the Senate is unlikely to pass the measure before the midterm elections because of a time crunch on the floor and staunch GOP opposition to a handful of controversial provisions, including a repeal of the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.

Democrats are also likely to try to attach two other controversial measures to the bill: one to prevent the use of secret holds to block action on bills in the Senate and the other, know as the DREAM Act, to grant green cards to qualifying immigrants.

Other measures the Senate could vote on next week include a package of tax extenders and a continuing resolution to fund the government after the fiscal year expires Sept. 30. Democrats also hope to pass an extension of some of the tax cuts enacted in 2001 under President George W. Bush, although a proposal that could win 60 votes on the Senate floor has yet to surface. The tax cuts extension could instead be considered during a post-election lame-duck session, along with the defense bill and other priorities that are still pending.

The Senate did pass a small-business jobs bill this week, which was a major victory for Democrats eager to tout the measure to constituents back home. That bill heads to the House next week, where Democrats also will plow ahead with two more planks of their election-year “Make It in America” jobs initiative. So far, the bills packaged under that banner have been narrow in scope and, in many cases, have easily passed the House.

House Democratic leaders also could take up a bill aimed at providing billions of dollars in health benefits to workers sickened during cleanup efforts at the World Trade Center site after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, as well as a measure aimed at reauthorizing NASA programs.

No votes will occur in the House until Wednesday evening. Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) released a revised schedule on Friday announcing the chamber will come in at 2 p.m. Wednesday for legislative business, with no votes until 6 p.m.

Democrats already had a light work schedule planned this month, but endangered lawmakers have been pressuring leadership to keep them in Washington, D.C., only if absolutely necessary. And with the party still divided over what to do on tax cuts, the only must-pass bill on the agenda is the continuing resolution keeping the government running.

A Democratic leadership aide downplayed the idea that the high-stakes electoral climate prompted a last-minute decision to pare back the House schedule.

“Members always like to work in their districts as much as possible, and this fall is no exception,” the aide said.