Frist Readies Series of Rare Procedural Motions

Posted July 13, 2004 at 6:56pm

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) indicated Tuesday that he would apply little-used procedural tactics to force Democrats to send an international corporate-tax bill to conference with the House sometime before the Senate adjourns for the August recess.

“If we can’t work out some agreement to go to conference, I have no option but to make a motion to proceed and see what they do about it,” Frist said.

At press time, Frist was still contemplating whether to get the ball rolling on a series of procedural votes last night, a senior Senate GOP aide said.

“I think within the next two days the leader is going to pull the trigger,” said Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.), a Finance Committee member and potential conferee.

However, Senate Finance ranking member Max Baucus (D-Mont.) said it would be a mistake to give up on current negotiations with Democrats.

“Any surprises on a major bill are a recipe for failure,” Baucus said. “I’d highly advise against it.”

Frist’s move is designed to force Democrats to go on the record as impeding a bill that, among other things, would effectively end European Union trade sanctions on U.S. goods.

Though the series of procedural tactics could take as long as two weeks to complete, Lott said he didn’t think it would get that far.

“I expect [Democrats] to cave. That would be the responsible thing to do,” said Lott.

The original Senate bill passed 92-5, with 44 Democrats voting for it.

Daschle has so far refused to allow Frist to use the traditional, quick procedures used to send the international corporate-tax bill to conference, because Daschle wants assurances that Democrats will be included in the discussions. The two sides have been in negotiations over going to conference since the House passed its version of the bill June 17.

Similarly, Daschle has rebuffed Republican attempts to bring up the Homeland Security spending bill under an agreement that would prevent Democrats from offering amendments that would add to the cost of the bill.

Republicans and many Democrats are eager to get the international corporate-tax bill into conference and passed this year, because the measure repeals a U.S. export subsidy that was ruled illegal by the World Trade Organization. Because of the WTO’s ruling, the European Union was allowed to impose tariffs that rise 1 percentage point for every month Congress fails to act on a measure.

For Frist to send the bill to conference with the House, he must first file a motion to proceed — that is, to begin debate — on to the House-passed version of the international-tax bill. If the Senate agrees to begin debate, Frist would then have to introduce an amendment that would effectively replace the House’s language with the text of the Senate-passed bill. Roll-call or voice votes would have to be held on the amendment and on final passage of the amended House bill. Frist then could request a motion to go to conference with the House.

Usually, those steps are taken all at once by unanimous consent, but they all are subject to filibuster — a bit of leverage that Democrats are using to their advantage.

Because Democrats have threatened to block Frist at every step, Frist anticipates having to file cloture, or a motion to limit debate, on every motion, hoping to get 60 or more votes each time to prevent filibuster.