Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid may have announced Tuesday that he won’t block GOP attempts to bring a popular 3 percent withholding bill to a vote, but lawmakers and voters shouldn’t see it as a sign of a thaw in the Capitol’s partisan chill.
The Nevada Democrat said that while he is not inclined to stand in the way, he will try to amend the bill. Such a move could stall the legislation despite its overwhelming passage in the House last week and the backing of the Obama administration.
“The bill that comes from the House, I think we should amend it,” Reid said. “I’ve spoken to the Republican leader; he wants to bring that forward. I’m not going to stand in the way of his bringing it forward.”
Reid’s decision came after days of sniping between Republicans and Democrats. The argument is not over the fundamental policy behind the bill but rather what offset to use to pay for it. According to several GOP and Democratic Senate aides, Reid has insisted on using the offsets in the House bill as a way to fund a transportation authorization bill.
Reid’s resistance to either passing the House bill as is or taking the measure up this week to quickly send it to President Barack Obama has frustrated Republicans.
“The Senate Democratic leadership is paralyzed by devotion to tax hikes and more of the same failed ‘stimulus’ policies,” said Michael Steel, spokesman for Speaker John Boehner (Ohio). “Both the 3 percent provision and the pay-for were specifically supported by the White House. It’s tough to understand why the Senate Democratic leadership doesn’t just pass the House-passed bill. They just can’t take ‘yes’ for an answer.”
Reid countered that the Republicans are protecting “millionaires and billionaires” at the expense of creating jobs for the middle class by opposing the transportation bill.
“I’m terribly disappointed that the Republican caucus has ignored the wishes of the American people,” Reid said.
The bitter back-and-forth is just the latest flare-up resulting from a fundamental breakdown in how the chambers work and how Congress approaches its job, according to aides and lawmakers.
“It’s like walking into a children’s fight,” a Senate Republican aide said Tuesday, explaining that even arcane issues such as pay-fors — which have traditionally been so deep in the weeds that they were smoothed out with little fanfare — have become flashpoints.
“The Senate is not immune to the 24-hour news cycle and bloggers and pressure to stay in the majority or to capture the majority,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said. Graham, a former House Member, cast aspersion on both chambers, saying: “It’s a symptom of the Senate becoming more like the House.”
That, Graham and others said, has led to a climate in which neither side is willing to trust the other, which makes it difficult to find common ground — even when it exists.