Senate Republican leaders are trying to determine whether they have enough support in the their Conference to help Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) filibuster a public lands bill that already cleared the chamber once this year.
Theres a significant portion of the Conference thats open to the idea, one senior Senate GOP aide said.
A test vote is scheduled for tonight, and 60 votes are needed to bring the measure up for consideration.
If Republicans decide to try to block the public lands bill, it would represent a dramatic reversal from earlier this year, when 17 GOP Senators supported moving it through. At that earlier vote, those Senate Republicans rebuffed Coburns pleas to try to amend the package and win a fight that he waged with Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) for the better part of the 110th Congress.
The public lands package, which on its face enjoys strong bipartisan support, was the first measure to come before the Senate this year, and the vote to beat back Coburns filibuster was seen as the first major victory for Reid. The win was sweet, not only because Reid had finally overcome Coburns objections, but also because it signaled that he may be able to stop repeated GOP filibusters of his legislative agenda.
The ostensible purpose of the GOP filibuster strategy last year was to protect the partys ability to offer amendments to legislation an argument that was rejected by nearly half of all GOP Senators in that January public lands bill vote. But recently the Senate GOP has re-embraced the minority rights argument they unified just last week to force more amendment votes on a $410 billion omnibus spending bill.
The lands package has been nicknamed the Tomnibus because it is a catch-all bill of public lands measures that Coburn blocked in the last Congress. Coburn was also successful in the 110th at persuading his Republican colleagues to stand with him, but that was when the Senate had a more robust 49-Member minority.
GOP aides noted that this time, the entire Conference would have to be unified behind Coburn. It was unclear late last week whether all 41 GOP Senators the bare minimum needed to filibuster were on board with the plan. Coburn made his plea for unity at the Senate Republican Steering Committee lunch Wednesday, the senior Senate GOP aide said.
The aide said Senate GOP leaders could decide to allow the bill to come up for debate but block it before it can pass. However, no decisions have been made as the leadership continues to survey Members about whether there is a will to filibuster.
Either way, Coburn plans to use all the procedural tactics at his disposal to force an extended debate on the bill, his spokesman John Hart said.
If Dr. Coburn receives anything less than a full and open debate on this, he will do everything in his power to force the Senate to spend the maximum amount of time on this bill, Hart said.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, speaks with reporters in the Capitol after a speech on the Senate floor that accused the CIA of searching computers set up for Congressional staff for their research of interrogation programs.