Election-year politics is keeping the Senate idling, and Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is finding it increasingly difficult to rack up the accomplishments that Members including himself need to tout back home.
That reality is also starting to frustrate House Democrats eager to have a jobs agenda to campaign on.
This is a very difficult political time for Democrats because were losing our edge on the jobs issue, said Rep. Artur Davis (D-Ala.), who recently lost his primary bid for governor. The only way Democrats are going to avoid a disaster this November is if we recapture the edge on jobs and recapture the edge on the economy. Today, Republicans in district after district and state after state are winning that narrative.
But Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) indicated last week that House Democrats may not get much out of the Senate in the next few months. He said that Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has made no secret of his plan to foil the Democratic agenda, particularly the majoritys plans to try to shore up the countrys discouraging unemployment picture.
The general election campaign has begun, Durbin said. Sen. McConnell has told Sen. Reid, Forget it. Were not going to do anything. And so were basically faced with that.
Durbin added: Other Republican Senators have said, Were just not going to give you anything. And I take them at their word. They believe this is the right election strategy to stop us from doing anything that we think will create jobs and turn the economy around. They dont believe that thats to their political advantage and so theyre not going to help us do that.
Republicans deny they are employing any new tactics just because the midterm elections are a scant four months away.
There is nothing different about our strategy at all, one senior Senate GOP aide said. If for the first time this Congress Democrats pursue a legislative strategy that includes Republicans, well be happy to help, but if they want to continue racking up the debt on party-line votes then we dont have anything to talk about. It has absolutely nothing to do with elections, the weather or anything other than our obvious differences.
Even before the death of Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) last week, Reid was already having a hard time moving an otherwise noncontroversial tax extenders bill that included an extension of unemployment benefits. Those jobless benefits expired more than a month ago.
Reid has lost his past three attempts to break a GOP-led filibuster of jobless benefits that are not offset with spending reductions elsewhere. Last week, Reid broke the unemployment portion of the extenders bill out at the urging of Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) but still failed to garner the 60 votes needed. Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson (Neb.) supported the GOP blockade.
Given Reid was only one vote short, he should be able to get the bill across the finish line sometime next week once Byrds replacement is sworn-in. A senior Senate Democratic aide said leaders expect West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin (D) to name a new Senator by the time we come back into session on July 12.