A tried and true method of grinding the Senate to a halt is to get in the way of Sen. Mary L. Landrieu when the Louisiana Democrat wants a vote that she thinks she has a chance to win.
That happened Tuesday afternoon, when Landrieu became indignant that a GOP senator — whom she identified as Patrick J. Toomey of Pennsylvania — was holding up a vote on a flood insurance amendment to the farm bill on the Senate floor. She decided to respond by holding up all other Republican amendments to the measure.
Her proposal, drafted with a bipartisan group of senators from flood-prone states, would delay some new flood insurance premiums from kicking in to prevent costs for buyers from increasing. Opponents say that it could make the federal government seek extra borrowing authority for the already beleaguered National Flood Insurance Program.
"My amendment has no score. It doesn't cost the federal government anything, if this amendment were to pass," Landrieu said. "It simply delays for three years a certain category of flood insurance premiums until an affordability study can be conducted, with zero score. Unfortunately, the senator from Pennsylvania, to my knowledge, is still holding up this amendment."
Landrieu thinks she's got a 60 vote super-majority at hand to attach a flood insurance amendment to the pending farm bill, but so far, she is not being permitted to offer it. It has the backing of Louisiana Republican David Vitter and a number of other senators.
"If I have to stay on the floor until the end of the week, I am going to stay here, but I am going to object to any Republican amendment until we get ... a vote," Landrieu said.
Landrieu's stand isn't particularly surprising. She and Vitter agreed, with some reluctance, to let a water resources bill go forward and pass the Senate without a vote on the same amendment when faced with opposition from Toomey.
Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., made a series of requests to get a slew of farm bill amendments called up and pending for votes, but faced objection. At one point, Agriculture Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow of Michigan actually called out Coburn for trying to offer an amendment that had already been included in her bill.
By and large, Stabenow and ranking member Thad Cochran, R-Miss., included amendments adopted during last year's farm bill marathon that included 73 votes. One proposal from last year that still awaits consideration this year is from Sens. John McCain R-Ariz., and Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., that we've previously reported on to kill the Agriculture Department's inspection of catfish.
"We don't at this point have time to go through 150 amendments. so what we've got to do is find out what is a priority for everyone, put together a finite list, we're going to continue to work on that," Stabenow said. "If the majority leader files cloture, we can still continue to do that. We can put together a finite list list, vitiate the cloture vote and move to a group of amendments. That would be my preference."
Coburn praised Landrieu's stand and called on senators to take tough votes, noting the number of times in years past that he's offered amendments opposed by Cochran (primarily to appropriations bills).
"I offered a lot of amendments that he opposed and didn't like, some of them affecting Mississippi. And he beat me every time, but he never said you can't offer the amendment. So I think we're at a seminal moment," Coburn said. "Let's start moving things, and what I would do is call on the ranking member and the chairman, give me that list. Let me go fight for it. Let's break this beaver dam in the Senate and let's start acting like grown-ups again."
Stabenow signaled Tuesday afternoon that Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., could file cloture to limit debate today. That would set up a vote on Thursday, before the Senate adjourns to allow the chamber to be used for a service remembering the late Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg, D-N.J.