Reid’s Keeping the Senate Working, for Now

Posted March 7, 2009 at 8:21am

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) set the tone this year when he scheduled the Senate’s very first vote on a Sunday.Ever since that 66-12 vote on Jan. 11 to move forward on final passage of a public lands package, the Senate has held a steady schedule of Friday sessions and Monday night votes — including this coming Monday, when the chamber is slated to vote on a handful of amendments to the omnibus spending package.With a heavy workload waiting at the outset of the 111th Congress, Sen. Benjamin Cardin (D-Md.) said Reid put Democrats on notice and to keep their weekends flexible.“I think we expect to be here even on the weekends. I expect to work on Fridays.— Cardin said.The Senate has tackled major pieces of legislation in the opening weeks of the Congress, from a $787 billion stimulus package to current debate over a $410 omnibus bill. Reid introduced an energy and environment measure earlier this week, and he predicted the chamber would begin debating a major health care bill by the August recess.While tackling a legislative laundry list, the Friday sessions also are a response to President Barack Obama’s call to Congress that the “day of reckoning has arrived, and the time to take charge of our future is here.—“The question is, Is Obama asking us to do too much? The answer is no,’— Reid told reporters earlier this week.“We have a lot to do. It’s very important that we do it. We’re dealing with this economic crisis. We have to stabilize the housing market. We need to make sure that there’s credit available,— the Majority Leader added. “There may come a time when we’re going to have to cast some votes again on weekends.—For Cardin, the hourlong drive from Balitmore makes weekend votes a manageable task, but for someone like Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), who treks nine hours from the Beltway to Big Sandy, Mont., every weekend, planning is more difficult.“If negotiations head south on a Thursday and we have to vote on Friday, then I’ll be getting on a flight [Friday morning] instead of 5:30 on a Thursday night,— said Tester, who still tends to a family farm. “If I can get home and have two full days in Montana, then it’s worth it. But if there’s a Friday vote and a Monday vote, then I won’t go.—So far Republicans, who have lobbied hard to get their amendments offered and debated, aren’t complaining about the longer workweeks.If Democrats are ready for weekend debate, so is the GOP, said Josh Holmes, spokesman for Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). “Senate Republicans are more than willing to spend nights, weekends or whatever it takes to get people back to work, our economy back on track and protect the taxpayers from this massive spending spree,— Holmes said.