Reid Readies a Hard-to-Resist Package

Posted July 18, 2008 at 5:48pm

After weeks of public sniping and behind-the-scenes talks between Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and conservative gadfly Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) over Coburn’s use of holds to block legislation, the chamber’s top Democrat appears ready to force a showdown by introducing a package of stalled bills aimed at breaking GOP support for Coburn.

According to Senate leadership aides, Reid today will begin the process of moving the “Coburn Omnibus,” a set of bills that have broad bipartisan support but have been held up because of Coburn’s objections.

Debate on the bill could begin Friday, and Coburn has raised the possibility of using the chamber’s arcane rules to grind the Senate to a halt.

Earlier this year, the two lawmakers’ relationship quickly degenerated over Reid’s decision to use procedural tactics to circumvent a deal he had cut with Coburn on a package of lands bills.

Since then, the two offices have engaged in a low-intensity public relations war, with Reid and his surrogates charging that Coburn is simply blocking bills to tie the chamber in knots, while Coburn, backed by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), has sought to cast the conflict as a powerful Majority Leader running roughshod over the rights of the minority party.

Reid floated a broad list of possible bills to Coburn earlier this month in the hope that a deal could be cut to move some of them separately.

Although a final list of bills for Reid’s grab bag was still being worked out at press time, sources said it appeared likely that Reid would include measures that would be difficult to oppose: stroke prevention legislation, lateral sclerosis legislation, the Christopher Reeve Paralysis Act, the Emmitt Till Unsolved Crimes Act, the Mentally Ill Offender Treatment Act, the Drug Endangered Kids Act, the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act and legislation dealing with the COPS program.

Other bills that could make their way into the final Coburn Omnibus include the Child Pornography Act, the Polish Jews Museum bill, the National Bombing Prevention Act and legislation creating the Star-Spangled Banner and War of 1812 Commission, among others.

Reid spokesman Jim Manley argued that Reid is simply looking to ensure bills that have broad support in both chambers move through the Senate in a timely fashion and accused Coburn of abusing Senate rules.

“Under normal circumstances, these bills would pass by [unanimous consent] in the Senate. It’s only because of the unprecedented obstructionism of Sen. Coburn that Congress has been unable to do its job of helping to set America’s priorities,” Manley said.

According to Democratic aides, Reid is selecting bills in part to ensure that every Senator — including Republicans — is a co-sponsor of at least one of the bills. Aides also acknowledged that the preliminary list’s emphasis on measures protecting children, the disabled and law enforcement is part of a deliberate effort by Reid to make it more difficult for Republicans to stand by Coburn.

Coburn spokesman John Hart rejected Democrats’ complaints that Coburn has been using holds to simply obstruct bills. He said the lawmaker is willing to debate bills so long as he has an opportunity to change them. He also argued that while many of the bills at the center of the dispute are important, most are largely narrow in scope.

“It’s disappointing the list of bills Sen. Reid says the Senate must pass before it takes an early vacation doesn’t include a plan to lower gas prices or reduce our dependence on foreign oil,” Hart said.