Reid to Brag About First 100 Days

Posted April 9, 2007 at 5:55pm

Determined to produce a “do-something” Senate, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) will bring his chamber back into town today for a thoroughly predictable debate over stem-cell research, while the House continues with the second week of its April recess.

Of course, one of Reid’s chief reasons for keeping the Senate’s break so short — to thwart White House attempts at recess appointments — was rendered moot when President Bush went ahead and installed three controversial nominees last week anyway.[IMGCAP(1)]

Still, coming back early allows the Senate to get some of its veto-bait out of the way, as more than 60 Senators are expected to back a broad stem-cell measure designed to roll back a Bush administration policy that limits federal funding for research on stem cells from human embryos. Bush — in the first and, so far, only veto of his tenure — scuttled a nearly identical measure last year, and the new Democratic majority still appears short of the two-thirds needed in both chambers to override his expected veto this year.

Though a few votes have changed in the Senate due to Democratic gains in November, the debate is likely to be a rote recitation of past talking points, with supporters heralding the possibility that embryonic stem-cell research could lead to cures for diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, while opponents say those maladies might be treated with other therapies — such as adult stem cells and umbilical cord blood advances — that do not involve the destruction of human embryos, a practice they liken to abortion.

And during debate, there’s probably a good bet to be made on the Senate having a lot of empty chamber “quorum calls” to pass the time this week.

Votes on final passage of both the Democratic-sponsored stem-cell bill and an alternative measure, championed by Sens. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.) and Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), are expected Wednesday. The Coleman-Isakson bill would allow federal funding for stem-cell research that “does not harm or destroy human life,” according to a Coleman release.

Assuming those two measures pass, as is probable, they will give Reid more to crow about Thursday when he highlights the Senate’s accomplishments during the first 100 days of the session.

While only one major bill — the delayed and amalgamated fiscal 2007 spending bill — has become law, Reid will use his regular Thursday “pen and pad” to talk up his chamber’s ability to get things done — notably, passage of a minimum wage increase, an ethics and lobbying reform package, and a bill to implement the terrorism-prevention recommendations of the 9/11 commission.

But because the list is relatively short, Reid also will stress Democratic attempts to “restore accountability to government … by asking the tough questions, holding oversight hearings, and demanding accountability from this administration,” said Reid spokesman Rodell Mollineau.

That includes, Mollineau said, “ensuring the criminal justice system is free of manipulation” by continuing to ask questions about why eight U.S. attorneys were fired last year and taking more “steps … to ratchet up the pressure to get the president to change course in Iraq.”

Back on the subject of veto bait, House and Senate staffers are also expected to continue meeting to hammer out the details of their $120 billion-plus supplemental Iraq War spending bill, but the big issue — how to phrase language limiting the U.S. mission in Iraq and calling for troops to come home by a date certain — likely will be left to next week when both House and Senate Members are around to weigh in.

Still, Republicans plan an assault on Democrats, particularly in the House, for leaving town without sending the bill to the president or even beginning formal conference negotiations to reconcile the House and Senate versions of the measure.

In fact, the House left town without appointing conferees. However, some Democratic sources indicated that House leaders may have decided, like their Republican predecessors, to hold off on conferees to prevent the minority from offering largely political and nonbinding “motions to instruct conferees.” The Senate appointed conferees March 29, and Reid had said he hoped to begin the conference that week.

Meanwhile, both parties in the Senate are gearing up for a battle over whether to give Medicare officials the authority to negotiate lower prices for prescription drugs. There is bipartisan support to giving the government that power, but it’s unclear whether Reid will be able to summon 60 votes to overcome a filibuster of the bill, which could come to the floor as early as next week.