Senate Falling Short

Posted June 26, 2008 at 11:48am

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has been unable to tamp down concern within his own party over renewal of the federal surveillance program, and it is looking increasingly likely that the bill won’t get done before the Fourth of July recess.

Reid has also been engaged in an ongoing standoff with his home-state colleague, Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.), over a bill to deal with the housing crisis. The Majority Leader threw his hands up on that issue Wednesday night, saying it would have to wait as well.

Meanwhile, Reid has insisted that a fix to Medicare doctors’ payments and the war supplemental must be completed before the recess.

But though things were in considerable flux Thursday morning, it appears that the measure to renew and change the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and the housing reform bill have reached a dead end, for now.

On FISA, Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said Thursday morning that Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.), who plans to offer with Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) an amendment that would remove an immunity provision for telecommunication companies, has demanded a significant amount of debate time to address his concerns.

“Sen. Feingold wants time to address some of his concerns. It doesn’t look like we’ll get this done. It will be held up until after the Fourth,” said Durbin, referring to the weeklong recess that is slated begin Friday.

Democratic leaders had hoped they would be able to reach an agreement with Feingold, who was the most demanding of the bill’s foes, to offer his amendment while reserving some time for the opposition.

But Feingold threatened to filibuster the bill to force the chamber to jump through endless procedural hoops in order to move the bill.

Both Democratic and Republican aides expect FISA to pass when Reid reduces internal Democratic issues dissent. The last time FISA was renewed in the Senate it received wide support with 80 Senators moving to pass it.

However, the amendment that Dodd and Feingold plan to offer to strike the immunity provision is unlikely to succeed, because it failed when the Senate initially took up the bill in February.

Emily Pierce contributed to this report.