Housing Bill Can’t Surmount Obstacles

Posted June 25, 2008 at 7:21pm

With two days to go until the Fourth of July recess, dissent over the bill to address the mortgage crisis forced Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to concede on Wednesday night that it may have to be postponed until after the break.

After a Wednesday night vote to proceed on the federal surveillance program succeeded, Reid went to the floor to chastise Republicans for obstructing movement on the housing bill. Sticking to his guns in refusing to compromise with Republicans, Reid said the housing package may have to wait until after the recess.

“I tell all the people who are objecting to completing the housing legislation, we will complete it. It may not be tomorrow. It may not be Friday. It may have to wait until the first week we get back,” Reid said.

All day, Reid and his home-state counterpart, Sen. John Ensign (R), threw gentle blows at one another over an amendment that Ensign offered Tuesday with Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) that would offer renewable energy tax credits to produce alternative energy.

Reid argues that the amendment is not relevant to the housing bill and can be addressed at some later point; however, Ensign, like Reid, is not giving in.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), on the other hand, tried to brighten up the mood “and finish the day with optimism,” saying he thought the housing bill will actually get done before lawmakers leave for the weeklong break.

Even if there is bipartisan support to move the housing bill, the battle over FISA may be a tougher hurdle to surmount, as Reid may have to tame dissent within his own party. One Democratic leadership aide said both Sens. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), a chief proponent of the housing bill, and Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) would like to use a significant portion of debate time to address their concerns with the bill.

The aide did note that, while the Senate vote on a procedural rule to proceed to the federal surveillance program was overwhelming at 80-15, negotiations are still ongoing between Reid, Dodd and Feingold on how much time they can debate the bill.

Both Dodd and Feingold have threatened to endlessly debate the bill unless a controversial provision that gives immunity to telecommunications companies that participated in the warrantless wiretapping program is removed.

An amendment that Dodd and Feingold plan to offer to strip the federal wiretapping program is unlikely to succeed, as it previously failed when the Senate initially took up the measure in February.

After his closing comments, Reid huddled with both Democratic and Republican leaders, only to later say that the housing bill, in fact, will be put off until after the break.