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Partisanship Threatens Minibus

Senate ‘Gentlemen’s Agreement’ Now Just a Memory

The gentlemen’s agreement reached earlier this year between Republican and Democratic Senate leaders “has broken down big-time,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Tuesday as tensions mounted over numerous GOP amendments being proposed to a package of spending bills.

The Nevada Democrat complained on the Senate floor that Republicans haven’t held up their end of the bargain to help keep the Senate running smoothly with a minimum of procedural roadblocks.

“That has prevented us from doing the routine work we do around here,” Reid said, as he expressed hope that the Senate would be able to pass the minibus package of three appropriations bills. The spending bills are the chamber’s first attempt to approve money for federal agencies before Nov. 18, when current funding will run out.

The potential for Congressional dysfunction to lead to yet another government shutdown fight had Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) proposing Tuesday to pass a one-year continuing resolution to take a shutdown off the table.

“In order to do our basic job, do we need to subject the rest of government and the country to a series of threatened shutdowns?” he asked on the Senate floor.

While Reid still holds out hope for a bipartisan deal on fiscal 2012 spending, he noted that so far “this Congress, [Republicans] have turned even routine matters into crises,” adding, “they have filibustered everything by amendment.”

After a year in which Congress took the country to the precipice of financial crisis three times, Reid said it’s a rare day that Republicans allow him to simply bring a bill up for debate without having to go through the process of beating back a filibuster.

Under the gentlemen’s agreement, Republicans were supposed to allow bills to come to the floor without procedural barriers, and Reid was supposed to allow Republican amendments instead of using a maneuver known as “filling the amendment tree” to block minority proposals. But it hasn’t worked out that way.

Reid blamed Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-Ky.) stated top goal of defeating President Barack Obama next year.

“As a result of that, we have not been able to do the government’s business because everything that they can do to slow down government is something they believe will help them a year from now,” Reid said.

More than 80 amendments, mostly Republican, have been offered to the minibus, which is made up of the Commerce, Justice and science; Agriculture, rural development, and Food and Drug Administration; and Transportation and Housing and Urban Development appropriations bills.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) took Reid to task in an interview with Roll Call.

“I agree with him: It’s our fault. It’s completely our fault that every time a bill comes up, he fills up the tree and files cloture,” he said facetiously. “That is the Republicans’ fault. And by God, we shouldn’t propose any amendments — it clogs up the Senate.” Cloture is a procedural motion that requires 60 votes and, if successful, prohibits a filibuster.

McCain said the number of times Reid has filed cloture and filled the tree as well as the paltry number of bills the Senate has taken up aren’t Republicans’ fault: “It’s really not a very admirable record. … If you want to blame that all on Republicans, I don’t think the American people would.”

A Senate Republican aide said Reid has not lived up to his end of the bargain, pointing to the Majority Leader’s decision to fill the tree on eight bills so far this year, versus three times at this stage in the previous Congress.

Republicans, including McConnell, have blamed Reid for this year’s dysfunction, saying it is primarily a result of vulnerable Senate Democrats not wanting to take any tough votes on GOP amendments.

Reid had similar complaints earlier this month when he and Democrats voted to change Senate precedent. By a majority vote, Democrats blocked Republicans from offering motions to suspend the rules and consider amendments after a cloture vote. That move infuriated McConnell and the GOP.

Reid said Congress must show that it can do its work.

“It is an important time in the history of our country to show the American people we can work together,” he said. “I hope that, in fact, is the case because based on my experience at the beginning of this Congress where there was supposed to be a good-faith effort to return to regular order, it has not happened.”

The Senate did manage Tuesday to vote on two Republican amendments to the spending package. One, which was proposed by Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) and passed 99-0, would prevent the Justice Department from spending money on any gun-tracking operations such as the controversial Operation Fast and Furious. The Phoenix-based operation lost track of guns used in a sting designed to lead to the arrest of Mexican drug cartel leaders. The guns ended up being connected to crimes in the United States, including one that took the life of a U.S. Border Patrol agent.

“Operation Fast and Furious not only claimed the life of a Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry in December 2010, [but] we know that this ill-conceived program resulted in guns being found at the crime scenes at 11 different locations in the United States and jeopardizing the relationship we have with our friend to the south,” Cornyn said.

The Senate also voted down, 44-55, an amendment from McCain that would have eliminated trade adjustment assistance for companies. The TAA program provides job retraining and aid to U.S. workers, farmers, communities and companies negatively affected by government trade policies. TAA also provides grants to companies, which McCain opposes.

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