The Senate is setting up a busy Thursday afternoon, on track to confirm one of its own to be the top U.S. diplomat in Beijing before the end of the day.
Democrats are less likely to prevail on jobless benefits. Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., pushed off a morning vote to limit debate on legislation to revive extended unemployment benefits for three months. That vote is now set for 2 p.m.
The delay should allow Iowa Republican Charles E. Grassley to return to the Capitol for the vote. Grassley made a rare midweek trip out of town due to the death of his sister. He last missed a roll call vote while touring flood damage in Iowa with President Bill Cinton back in 1993.
This version of the unemployment insurance extension would be paid for with an extension of what's known as "pension smoothing," which allows companies to reduce deductible pension contributions in the near term. Such a move has the effect of increasing taxable income and scores as raising federal revenue.
Top Democrats have said for days they are close to the 60 votes to limit debate, but there is no indication they have the votes in hand.
"Republicans have refused every reasonable offer to move forward on this legislation. I'm beginning to believe there is nothing that will get Republicans to 'yes,'" said Reid.
Reid said senators are also working to set up a vote to confirm Finance Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., as the next ambassador to China before departing for the week.
"It is a testament to his love of the outdoors that Max walked 820 miles across Montana in 1995 and 1996, and completed a 50-mile race in less than 12 hours in 2003," Reid said in praising his longtime colleague. "Sen. Baucus' independent spirit has made him a powerful advocate for his home state and for the issues he cares deeply about. It has also made him a respected member of the Democratic caucus, and his passion, as well as his decades of experience in Congress, make him an excellent choice to represent America's interests in China, a growing power in a global economy."
The quick advancement of the Baucus nomination shouldn't be viewed as easing the Senate's standoff over nominations following Reid's use of the "nuclear option" to effectively change the chamber's rules on nominations, Republican aides said. Rather, it seems to be an old-school case of senatorial courtesy.
"Senate Republicans are picking smarter fights these days, and waging a fierce battle against an old man who's just been placed on the slow boat to China isn't one of them," said one senior GOP aide.