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Senate Libya Vote Sidelined for Debt Rhetoric

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Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) pulled a resolution on Libya off the floor Tuesday when it became clear that Republicans — including co-sponsors of the measure — would stage a filibuster to make a point about the larger deficit debate consuming Washington.

The Senate had canceled its scheduled July Fourth recess at the urging of President Barack Obama and Senate Republicans — both of whom wanted Congress to stay in town to debate the looming debt limit deadline. However, Reid instead planned to hold a series of votes on a long-stalled proposal to authorize limited military engagement in Libya as a way to fill floor time while debt and budget talks continued behind the scenes.

This approach didn’t appease Senate Republicans looking to send a message to Obama, who spurned a last-minute invite to meet with them last week. They also used the gambit to prove to constituents that they were serious about dealing with the debt.

“That is the reason that we’re back here this week during July recess,” Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said Tuesday of the deficit talks. “We need to focus on the issue at hand. Just to speak about how dysfunctional the United States Senate is: We’re here over the debt ceiling ... but instead of just focusing on the issue at hand ... we’re going to focus on something possibly that is irrelevant and has nothing whatsoever to do with [the budget] just to make the American people think that we’re doing something.”

Corker is a vocal opponent of the White House’s handling of the Libya mission, which began in March. He opposed the resolution when it cleared the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last week.

Though the Libya measure has bipartisan support and was on track to be the first successful Congressional action since military engagement began in the region, Democrats moved Tuesday afternoon to a symbolic Sense of the Senate resolution declaring, “Any agreement to reduce the budget deficit should require that those earning $1,000,000 or more per year make a more meaningful contribution to the deficit reduction effort.” The measure is intended to make Democrats’ point that tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans should be eliminated, but the nonbinding resolution does not call for any specific tax changes.

“The most important thing for us to focus on this week is the budget, so we’ll work to set up a vote on the Sense of the Senate resolution that I have offered on shared sacrifice and perhaps the Republican alternative, as well,” Reid said on the floor.

Republicans had no specific plans ready for an alternative Tuesday evening, but they could offer amendments to the measure if it is not filibustered on the floor.

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