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Bipartisan Deal Splits Democrats

Following a tense standoff that threatened to paralyze the floor for weeks, Senate Democrats and Republicans are claiming victory after reaching an agreement to take up a House-passed small-business bill and vote on 14 judicial nominations in the coming weeks.

But passage of the bipartisan Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act is far from secure, as Senate Democratic leaders appear split over Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-Nev.) decision to bring up the House-passed measure instead of a reworked Senate version.

Democrats, such as Majority Whip Dick Durbin (Ill.), hope to add consumer protections and other provisions to the measure, which could complicate the future of the bill being championed by another Democratic leader, Conference Vice Chairman Charles Schumer (N.Y.). The measure also has support from President Barack Obama.

On the floor Tuesday, Durbin declared a provision in the House bill that would allow startup businesses to raise capital online “Internet gambling.” He lamented that the measure could lead to “irrational exuberance” — a reference to a term used by former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan to warn against the dot-com bubble — leaving taxpayers on the hook to clean up the mess. The measure is opposed by a host of consumer protection groups, including AARP.

But Schumer said the bipartisan deal to take up the House-passed bill and an agreement to vote on a number of stalled judicial nominees was a victory for Democrats. He argued Reid was planning to move to the House bill anyway — which is also known as the initial public offering bill — after passing a $109 billion transportation bill. However, Reid indicated last week that he preferred to take up a Senate-authored version, rather than the House version of the measure.

Still, Schumer said “we are batting three-for-three this week in terms of important issues: a highway bill, judicial nominees and an IPO bill.”

But several Senate Democrats, such as Durbin, are concerned the measure would relax important financial regulations. Durbin said in his floor speech that he and others would offer their own substitute.

In addition to consumer protection amendments, Democrats also want to include an amendment from Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) that would reauthorize the Export-Import Bank, which expires at the end of May.

The problem is that if Senate Democrats tinker too much with the bill, they run the risk of making it unpalatable to House Republicans, which would open up Democrats to attacks that they are politicizing a bipartisan package.

Senate GOP Conference Chairman John Thune said Democrats should refrain from adding too many controversial amendments that might stall passage of the measure and that a clean bill could garner 75 to 80 votes.

The South Dakota Republican said many Republicans believe the bill is too important to bog down with some of the polarizing, social-issues-based amendments the GOP has offered on other bills.

“I think that our folks, on this particular bill, by and large, recognize that this is a priority bill with a sense of urgency attached to it that enjoys broad bipartisan support,” Thune said before noting that there can never be “any guarantee or assurance” that a GOP Member would not bring up a nongermane amendment.

Republicans appeared buoyed by the overall agreement on judges and the JOBS Act.

“We agreed to return to regular order,” one GOP aide said. The aide added that Democrats appeared to back down from the judges issue and move to the JOBS Act just as Senate Republicans had been calling for since the measure passed the House the last week by a vote of 390-23.

The Senate GOP had spent days hammering Democrats on abandoning the momentum from passage of the bipartisan House measure in favor of moving judicial nominees who they say would clear the Senate quickly.

Thune said he thought backing off the nomination votes was a “good move” on Reid’s part.

“Creating this choice between jobs and judges is not a good one,” Thune said. “Everybody realizes that the most urgent issue is jobs and the economy, and so when the leader comes out and says, ‘We’re going to spend all this time on the Senate floor — time that could otherwise be used on legislation that would impact jobs and the economy — on judicial nominations that under regular order are probably going to be approved anyway, it draws in question their priorities”

The deal on judicial nominations was reached after Reid last week filed motions to end debate on 17 judicial nominees and threatened to force votes on all 17 unless agreement could be reached to speed the pace of judicial confirmations.

Schumer praised the agreement and said he hoped it would smooth the way for judicial nominations in the future.

“We have come to an agreement, and it will set the ball rolling on much smoother approvals of judicial nominees in the future with less altercation, more comity and actually filling the bench more quickly,” Schumer said on the floor.

The standoff potentially could have kept the Senate voting on judges, one-by-one, through the rest of the month. “Our hope all along was that filing cloture was going to precipitate a deal, and it did,” a Senate Democratic leadership aide said.

The deal, which is expected to be locked in as part of a unanimous consent agreement, would put the Senate on the path to voting on 12 district and two circuit court judges by May 7, the Democratic aide said.

Meredith Shiner contributed to this report.

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