Senate Moves Only Medicare, War Supp

FISA, Housing Must Wait Until After Recess

Posted June 26, 2008 at 7:32pm

Updated: 11:07 p.m.

After threatening to hold votes well into the weeklong Fourth of July recess, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) conceded Thursday that the war supplemental and the Medicare bill would be the only pieces of legislation to get votes before lawmakers head home for the Fourth of July recess.

Two other key pieces of legislation — the housing reform bill and an extension of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act — will wait until Congress reconvenes, largely because of disputes that prolonged procedural motions.

After confirming what indeed would receive votes, the Senate failed to pass the Medicare legislation that breezed through the House earlier this week, but it passed the war supplemental 97-0.

Democrats fell one vote short of cloture on the Medicare legislation — 58-40, with Reid voting against it only after it was clear the legislation would not pass. He voted against it to preserve his right to bring up the legislation again.

The Medicare bill’s passage would have prevented a 10 percent cut in doctors’ Medicare reimbursements, which is now scheduled to take place July 1, days before Congress reconvenes after its weeklong recess.

Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) took lively shots at each other, each blaming the other for not extending the Medicare bill, referred to as the “doctor’s fix.”

McConnell accused Democrats of being the bad guys because they did not allow their chief tax writer, Sen. Max Baucus (Mont.), to continue negotiations with the senior Republican on the issue, Sen. Chuck Grassley (Iowa). Democrats instead forced the Senate to vote on the House bill without changes.

McConnell argued that the president would likely veto the bill, which would allow the bill to expire while Congress was on its break. In a rarely seen spurt of emotion, he then scolded Reid for what he called poor sportsmanship.

“Sen. Grassley and Sen. Baucus had been working together [and] started the way forward months ago by working together to get a bipartisan agreement, which is the way we typically have done these periodic Medicare bills,” he said. “But, no, my good friend the Majority Leader jerks them back in and says ‘we want to do this on a strictly partisan basis and we don’t care if the president will veto the bill or not.’”

In his turn to object to a unanimous consent motion to extend the Medicare bill for 30 days, Reid disputed McConnell’s claim and questioned why Republicans would stick by an unpopular president.

The war supplemental passed, 97-0, after Congressional leaders and the White House undertook intense negotiations to get a final blueprint. Reid apparently told Senate Democrats — many of whom wanted to add more domestic projects on the war funding bill — to swallow the supplemental so that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan could be funded.

Earlier, before the heated Medicare vote and the supplemental vote, a solemn Reid took to the floor to tell his colleagues that the Senate would not vote on an extension of FISA or on the housing reform bill, avoiding an earlier threat to have votes into the weeklong break.

On the face of it, Reid gave into pressure from fierce FISA opponents by pushing it off. Fellow Democratic Sens. Chris Dodd (Conn.) and Russ Feingold (Wis.) wanted a significant amount of time to debate the surveillance program, particularly to address their objections to the telecommunications immunity measure.

“The procedures that we just went through just now would take well into next week, so people should just be satisfied that we’re going to be able to have whatever the action is on Medicare,” Reid said, referring to threats on both sides of the aisle that lawmakers would use parliamentary rules to delay movement on several bills.