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Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) may be headed for the chamber’s record books, and Republicans are not at all happy about it.
Using an esoteric procedural move that can be central to the Senate’s ability to function — or not — Reid has on 22 separate occasions during the first four months of the 110th Congress filed cloture, a motion that when invoked limits debate on bills or other procedural motions.
In recent years, Majority Leaders have used cloture much more rarely, filing it only a handful of times in the first few months of a new Congress, Republicans noted.
Republicans said that Reid’s “record-breaking pace” eclipses the GOP’s previous efforts by a long shot. By April 17, 2005, in the 109th Congress, Republicans had filed cloture only four times. Similarly, four months into the 108th Congress, cloture had been filed five times, while in the 107th Congress the GOP leadership filed only once during that time period, according to a GOP fact sheet.
“At this rate, we will have 160 cloture motions by the end of the 110th Congress,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on the floor Monday. “This would shatter the old record of 82 back in 1995 and 1996.”
Of course, McConnell did not note that the 1995-96 session was the GOP’s first time in complete control of Congress in several decades. It’s a situation eerily similar to the one Democrats now find themselves in after having reclaimed both chambers in November’s elections after 12 years out of power.
No matter who is in the minority, the use of cloture often ruffles feathers, because it can be seen as a way not only to expedite consideration of a bill but also to shut down the ability of all Senators — particularly those in the minority — to offer amendments that are not directly related to the measure’s subject matter.
“There are two things that the Senate runs on, cloture and [unanimous] consent,” noted one senior Senate GOP aide. “So if you don’t have one, you’re going to get the other.”
Because Republicans — for various reasons — haven’t been giving Reid their “consent” to move forward on some pieces of legislation, Reid said he’s essentially been forced to try to keep the trains running on the Democratic policy agenda.
“It’s the only way I can get to the legislation,” Reid said Tuesday of his frequent cloture filings.
But it’s an approach that often has not worked, given that Reid has only 51 Senators in the Democratic Caucus but needs 60 votes to invoke cloture — which principally serves to foil a filibuster.
“The strategy of being obstructionist can work or fail,” said Senate Minority Whip Trent Lott (R-Miss.). “For [then-Senate Minority Leader Tom] Daschle (S.D.), it failed. For Reid, it succeeded, and so far it’s working for us.”
Reid has filed cloture multiple times on some bills, including the 9/11 commission implementation bill and a minimum-wage measure, to eventually get the 60 votes he needs. Other times he simply has failed to garner the needed votes, such as on his three attempts to bring up a resolution criticizing President Bush’s Iraq policy.
Republicans said Reid’s impatience to show that he can get things done along with his insistence on bringing up measures designed to please the Democratic base vote are only serving to unite Republicans against Democrats.
“It seems to me their conclusion is that a record of accomplishment is a lot less important than wedge political issues they can run on in ’08,” said Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.).
Republicans believe rushing to file cloture before debate really has begun is “disrespectful to the minority,” said the senior Senate GOP aide.
Of course, policy disagreements and political considerations also are at play, Republicans acknowledged.
When asked whether Reid had offered to allow amendments on both the intelligence authorization bill as well as a Medicare prescription drug measure, McConnell acknowledged Monday that the differences between the two parties were largely policy-related.
“The underlying bill is highly objectionable to the administration,” McConnell said of the intelligence measure. He added that many in the Republican Conference were completely opposed to the Medicare bill.
But McConnell said the way to avoid those kinds of policy differences would be to have brought up bills to ensure the solvency of Social Security or reform immigration laws.
“Another way to have gone would have been to have tackled some of these mega issues,” McConnell said at a press conference.
Meanwhile, Democrats denied that they are not allowing Republicans to offer amendments.
“I think they’re just crying wolf,” said Reid, noting that he offered to allow an equal number of amendments from both Republicans and Democrats on the intelligence authorization bill. “If McConnell says we’re not giving them a chance to amend bills, that’s not true.”
Reid spokesman Jim Manley said that each cloture motion — from two recent ones on the intelligence measure to four on the minimum-wage bill — has been necessary for a variety of reasons.
An expected cloture vote today on a bill to provide improved security at federal courthouses was necessary because Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) is objecting to any new authorization bills that do not include offsets, Manley said. Other GOP Senators have raised similar obstacles on nearly every other bill Reid has tried to bring up, he added.
“Despite the fact that the majority of these bills enjoy broad bipartisan support, there’s a small band of Republicans determined to obstruct everything we bring to the floor,” Manley said. “It’s getting a tad bit ridiculous when one single Senator is objecting to us going to a bill to provide security for our courts.”