Senate May Soon Grind to Halt

Leadership Spars on Agenda and Procedure

Posted July 18, 2012 at 5:47pm

A Wednesday morning sparring match between Majority Leader Harry Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell over internal Senate operations set the stage for a potential legislative stalemate through the August recess unless Reid allows more GOP amendment votes on the floor.

The first test comes today, when the Senate is scheduled to vote on whether to cut off debate on a bill by Sen. Debbie Stabenow to give a 20 percent tax break to companies that insource jobs located overseas.

Senate aides have said that if the Michigan Democrat’s legislation reaches the floor, it’s the likely vehicle for votes next week on extending the tax cuts implemented under President George W. Bush.

Reid signaled that the next bill to face serious floor consideration will be a cybersecurity overhaul that has faced opposition from the ranking members on most of the relevant committees.

“We’re going to have to get to cybersecurity before we get to the defense authorization bill because on the relative merits, cybersecurity is more important,” the Nevada Democrat said.

The annual defense measure is considered a must-pass measure.

During his renewed push on cyber-security issues, Reid noted that he spoke with CIA Director David Petraeus earlier this week. Petraeus also met with several Senators in the Capitol on Monday night.

McConnell said Reid has been too quick to use a procedural trick known as “filling the amendment tree” in order to keep Republicans from offering amendments when the Senate votes to proceed to bills.

“I used to tell my Members the price of being in a majority is you have to cast votes you don’t want to cast because that’s the way you get a bill across the floor and get it to completion,” the Kentucky Republican said.

Reid criticized Republicans for wanting to offer too many amendments, citing an effort by Sen. Rand Paul (Ky.) to cut off foreign aid to Pakistan.

Reid has blocked consideration of Paul’s amendment, but Paul said he is prepared to file his own cloture motion to force a floor vote on it unless Pakistan releases a doctor who helped U.S. forces find Osama bin Laden.

“I’ve obtained the signatures necessary to have a vote on this. The leadership doesn’t want to allow a vote on this, but I will one way or another get a vote on ending aid to Pakistan if they continue to imprison this doctor,” Paul said this week.

Without referencing Paul by name, Reid said Paul thinks he is a “better secretary of State than Hillary Clinton.”

The process debate began when McConnell challenged his Democratic counterpart over his pledge to eliminate some filibusters, warning of unintended consequences. He questioned Reid about plans to change the rules to eliminate filibusters of motions to proceed, which must be adopted for the Senate to take up bills. Reid said in a recent radio interview that he would push the rules change if he remains Majority Leader in January. Currently, motions to proceed can be filibustered and 60 votes are needed to overcome that blockade.

McConnell wanted rank-and-file Democrats listening to the floor exchange to consider what might happen if Republicans take control of the chamber after a rules change to allow for more simple-majority votes.

“Let’s assume we have a new president and I’m the Majority Leader next time and we’re operating at 51. I wonder how comforting that is to my friends on the other side,” McConnell said. “How does it make you feel about the security of Obamacare, for example?”

While parts of the 2010 health care law could be rescinded through the budget reconciliation process without 60 votes, the GOP-favored full repeal could not advance without rules changes.

Reid noted that he wants to maintain the ability of Senators to filibuster bills to keep them from passing, but he wants to ensure the majority can at least bring bills to the floor for debate.

“I’ve made it all very clear in all of my public statements about the need to get rid of the motion to proceed,” Reid said. “I’m not for getting rid of the filibuster rule. I’m convinced the best thing to do with the filibuster is have filibusters.”