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Senate Set for Long Days, Late Nights

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is using all the options at his disposal to get the Senate out of town as quickly as possible, announcing tonight that he plans a 1 a.m. Friday cloture vote on a veterans’ benefits bill and threatening a weekend session.

Reid filed the needed procedural motions today to set up the Friday vote, which under most circumstances would be held a few hours after the sun rises.

“Now, we have to wait two days for this to ripen. The two days is going to expire on Friday,” Reid said. “Now, we are going to vote on Friday, but it’s not going to be at a time convenient to everybody. We’re going to come in shortly after midnight tomorrow night, and we’re going to vote on this.”

Under Senate rules, a cloture vote may occur as early as 1 a.m. two days after the motion is filed.

Reid, who signaled that could be followed by Saturday votes, said he still hopes for an agreement but is not expecting one.

“If people cannot work together to help veterans, then we’re going to make sure the American public knows what’s going on,” Reid said.

Reid’s announcement came after the chamber voted 84-8 to take up the measure. Senators came back to the Capitol shortly before 9 p.m. today to cast the vote, the outcome of which was never in doubt.

But leaders have been unable to reach an agreement to dispense with procedural hurdles on the package of incentives to assist veterans looking for work, largely because of objections by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who has pledged to delay Senate activity until he receives a vote on a proposal to cut off aid to Pakistan. Paul wants to block funding until the country releases Shakil Afridi, a Pakistani doctor who provided assistance to U.S. intelligence efforts that led to the killing of Osama bin Laden.

“Because of the urgency of seeing that Dr. Afridi is freed, I am prepared to pursue any and all means to secure a vote on my bill immediately,” Paul wrote Sept. 10.

With Senators eager to get home to campaign as early as next week, Reid was digging in just as deeply as Paul.

After making procedural maneuvers to block any other Senator from offering amendments, Reid noted that in addition to Paul’s Pakistan amendment, one Senator had filed the entire defense authorization bill as an amendment to the veterans legislation.

Senate Armed Services ranking member John McCain (R-Ariz.) has been frustrated by Reid’s failure to schedule floor time for the stand-alone defense policy measure.

Paul responded sharply to Reid on the Senate floor, suggesting the Majority Leader will not seriously entertain GOP amendments. “What a charade and what a farce,” Paul said.

A senior Senate Democratic aide said Democratic leadership would not delay tonight’s vote because of the tight calendar and the need to clear the continuing resolution before heading for the exits.

The House is scheduled to consider the spending bill Thursday. The measure would keep the government operating for six months at funding levels provided for in last year’s debt limit deal and must be signed into law by Sept. 30 to prevent the possibility of a partial government shutdown.

Reid has also said he wants to take up a bill to revive and extend a set of tax provisions before leaving, though the number of procedural motions that would be needed to work around Paul’s objections could disrupt that plan.