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Senate Leaders Trade Barbs Over End-of-Session Game Plan

The partisan bickering over bills to keep the government open and preserve the expiring payroll tax cut continued this morning in the Senate, as Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) traded parliamentary objections that have left the chamber at an impasse.

Reid, during his opening floor remarks, asked for a unanimous consent agreement to move to a vote on the House-passed bill to extend the payroll tax holiday. Reid said the Republican bill contained obvious poison pills and would be defeated, referring to it as a “dead duck.” McConnell blocked the Majority Leader’s request with an objection before offering a counterproposal.

The Minority Leader offered to grant Reid’s request if the Nevadan would accept his unanimous consent proposal to allow votes on the omnibus spending bill, which has been all but agreed to in a House-Senate conference committee, to keep the government operating past Friday. The Majority Leader objected, maintaining a Democratic strategy that seeks to use the spending bill as leverage to keep Republicans at the negotiating table on the payroll tax holiday extension and other measures.

“Here we are a few days before Christmas and the silliness continues,” McConnell said during his floor exchange with Reid. “If my friend the Majority Leader is so convinced that the House-passed bill can’t pass the Senate, I would say again, talk to [Speaker John Boehner] and work out something that can pass both the House and the Senate. Time is wasting.”

Reid suggested the partisan theatrics were more about the upcoming 2012 presidential election than about legislating.

“Talk about a diversion. That’s what we just heard,” Reid responded. “My friend, the Republican leader, has talked from the very beginning of this Congress, his No. 1 goal is to defeat [President Barack Obama] for re-election. That’s not looking so good. [Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt] Romney is stumbling. [Ex-Speaker Newt] Gingrich is plodding along.”

The lengthy debate between Reid and McConnell, somewhat testy by Senate standards, ended with both leaders agreeing that all of their requests were blocked.

“We’ll both object; just for good measure, bipartisan objection,” Reid said just before he and McConnell left the floor. Senate votes on other measures, including Democratic and Republican versions of a balanced budget amendment, are expected later today.

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