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Harry Reid Changes Rules in Floor Fight With Mitch McConnell

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo

During a rare, lengthy floor debate over the Senate’s dysfunction from Members of both parties, McConnell accused Reid of changing the precedents of the Senate simply to avoid voting on the motions to suspend the rules sought by the GOP. He also accused Reid of fundamentally turning the Senate into the House.

“Look, let’s don’t change this place,” McConnell said on the floor. “America doesn’t need less debate. It needs more debate. ... I think we made a big mistake tonight. And as soon as we all kind of cool off and think about it over the weekend, I hope we’ll undo what we did tonight because it’s not in the best interest of this institution or the American people.”

Reid expressed frustration with Republican filibusters on previously uncontroversial bills. “When I try to have an open amendment process, it is a road to nowhere,” he said.

He also complained that Republicans have increased attempts to add amendments after cloture has been invoked. “This has to come to an end. This is not a way to legislate,” he said, although Republicans noted they had not offered any such post-cloture motions before in this Congress.

A Democratic aide contended that Democrats had agreed with Republicans to vote on seven of the nine motions the GOP wanted, including the president’s jobs bill, only to have McConnell change which motions he wanted to offer. In the end, an added benefit for the Democrats of nuking the motions was that it allowed them to avoid a vote on the original jobs bill, which is opposed by several in the party. Reid would prefer a vote on a revised version that he introduced this week that has more Democratic support.

A senior GOP aide disputed the Democrats’ account. “There was never any agreement,” the aide said. “If there was, we’d be done voting by now.”

One of the amendments Reid refused to allow concerns the regulation of farm dust and has bipartisan support. The senior Republican aide said Reid simply nuked the process because he didn’t want to lose a vote on the dust amendment.

“Democrats didn’t want to take a vote on the Johanns amendment on farm dust,” the aide said. “They were concerned because it probably had 67 votes since so many Dems supported it.”

Adding that amendment could have potentially emboldened Republicans to force assorted tough votes in an attempt to sink bills after they receive cloture in the future. Such moves would undermine Reid’s control of the Senate floor.

Reid said he was prepared to accept amendments but couldn’t get consent from all Democrats to vote on some offered by the GOP. And he complained that McConnell’s gambit to force a vote on the jobs package effectively froze the amendment process.

McConnell argued that the price of being in the majority is having to take bad votes, adding that the fundamental problem with the Senate is that Democrats aren’t willing to do so.

After the dispute, Reid suggested that the Senate return Tuesday for a final vote on the underlying Chinese currency legislation, as well as votes on a revised version of the president’s jobs bill and pending free-trade agreements.

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