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Senate GOP Still Saying ‘No’

Though Senate Democrats have handed them defeat after legislative defeat this year, Republicans say they plan to continue trying to slow down the Democratic agenda on the Senate floor as much as possible.

“Democrats need to know when they bring [bills] up, we’re going to extend the debate as long as we can — even if we can’t win it — so that their people back home know that they’re voting for this junk,” Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) said. “And we’re going to see it on everything.”

Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has filed motions to cut off attempted filibusters 17 times so far this year, but Republicans have only won one of the those votes — to block the nomination of David Hayes to be a deputy Interior secretary.

It’s a paltry record compared with last year, when Reid had filed motions to limit debate, or invoke cloture, 25 times by June 18, and lost 10 of those votes to Republicans. In all of 2008, Reid filed cloture 47 times and lost 19.

Even the GOP’s single win this year was somewhat of a fluke. The majority is 59 Members strong and needs only 60 votes to overcome a blockade. Even though two Republicans joined with every Democrat, they lost the vote, 57-39, because of three Democratic absences. Days later, Republicans allowed Hayes to be confirmed by voice vote.

Still, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) said he is too alarmed by the Democratic agenda to sit on the sidelines.

“Some of the things they want to do harm America tremendously,” Coburn said Wednesday. “If we can slow down this process while the American people figure out what they’re doing, that is beneficial to the country in the long term. So I don’t apologize for wanting cloture votes on almost anything that’s unreasonable.”

Senate Republican leaders, however, do not appear to be in on the quest to delay some relatively noncontroversial legislation — such as a U.S. travel promotion bill that is being debated this week — on which Reid has had to file cloture.

One senior Senate GOP aide indicated that most of the objections this year have come from individual Members of the Republican Conference and have not — as the Hayes nomination was — been party votes.

“Most of them, if not all of them, we weren’t trying to win,” the aide said. “But if one person objects, you have to file cloture.” On the travel promotion bill, for example, DeMint, Coburn and Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.) were the only Senators to vote against proceeding to the bill.

DeMint said it’s a matter of whether Reid wants to have votes on Republican amendments. “He can shorten the time anytime he wants, but he’s trying to protect his Members from taking votes that expose what’s really in these bills,” DeMint said. “Our amendments are often designed to make it clearer what we’re voting on either on that bill or something else.”

The senior Senate GOP aide noted that Reid could save himself the trouble of filing cloture if he would simply work with objecting Members on amendments before bringing measures to the floor.

“Some people would say that’s an indictment of the majority for not working out these problems beforehand,” the aide said.

Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) also said Reid doesn’t need to file cloture so often, but that he appears to think it’s easier than negotiating with the minority.

“I don’t think he has to do it on most of these matters, but if it’s easier for him to do that way, I can understand why he does it that way,” Kyl said. “So it’s not a matter of Republicans’ filibustering.”

But Democrats said whether it is just a handful of Republicans or the entire GOP Conference, the minority is making it much easier for Democrats to label Republicans the “party of no.” Still, Reid and other Democratic leaders have yet to recycle the Velcro chart they used last year to mark the number of times they said Republicans had attempted to filibuster legislation.

“It makes a difference having 59 votes,” said Sen. Charles Schumer (N.Y.), who led Senate Democrats last year to a seven-seat pickup. “Plus, Leader Reid has bent over backwards to allow Republicans to offer amendments on bills.”

Indeed, one senior Senate Democratic aide said having more Senate votes and the White House has changed the imperative for Democrats to constantly beat up on the minority.

“Last year, there was nothing we could do without a fair amount of Republican support. So it was the narrative,” the aide explained. “This year, we’re delivering on the promises that we made, despite Republican obstructionism. While that will continue to be part of the narrative, it’s not as dominant.”

It could become the narrative again, however, when the Senate takes up a massive restructuring of health care this summer. And Reid let it be known Wednesday that Republican delay tactics and what he sees as their lack of bipartisanship will not stop him from pushing a health care plan.

Reid even hinted that he might have to use a partisan path to enactment such as employing budget rules that would protect any health care bill from filibuster.

“In spite of the past, I remain optimistic that both Republicans and Democrats recognize how urgent this health care debate is,” Reid said on the floor.

But he warned, “As important as bipartisanship is, it is not as critical as helping the nearly 50 million Americans who now have nowhere to turn and the other 20 million who have bad insurance. ... In order for this bipartisan process to take root, Republicans must demonstrate a sincere interest in legislating. I hope they do so, because one way or another we’re going to get health care done.”

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