GOP Run Over in Game of Chicken

Posted November 4, 2009 at 6:45pm

For nearly a month, Senate Democrats and Republicans have engaged in a high-stakes game of chicken over unemployment benefits in an effort to show that they are not going to be pushovers in Senate floor action.

Democrats say Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has allowed Republicans to offer myriad amendments on issues irrelevant to bills on the floor and that the leader finally reached his breaking point on the jobless benefits extension.

Republicans counter that despite their modest numbers, they are not going to let Reid prevent them from offering proposals without a fight.

That difference of opinion resulted in a 29-day impasse that finally broke this week when Reid filed motions to end the Republicans’ attempted filibuster and dared them to vote against the politically popular measure. No Republicans opposed the measure Wednesday night on the final vote, which was 98-0.

“We have allowed amendments. That’s the whole issue. We have allowed amendments,— Reid told reporters Tuesday. “They are only trying to delay and stall things. We have — we have — done more legislating on, voting on, non-germane, non-relevant amendments this Congress, I think, than any time in the history that I’ve been around. And we’ve done it because the Republicans said that’s what they wanted, and I wanted to be fair. They have carried it to an extreme. They’ve been unfair and outlandish.—

A senior Senate Democratic aide confirmed that Reid had gotten fed up with what he saw as frivolous Republican amendments. “We tried repeatedly to work together on a consent agreement that would allow us to pass the bill quickly,— the aide said. “At some point, Sen. Reid said, ‘Enough’s enough.’—

Republican amendments to the unemployment bill included proposals on verifying immigration status and denying federal funds to the community organizing group the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now.

Democrats pointed out that Republicans have gotten four votes on amendments to prohibit ACORN from getting federal funding and that the GOP is using the issue to stall legislation that is otherwise bipartisan.

Of the amendments Reid did allow, spokesman Jim Manley said, “They’re policies motivated by a desire to strengthen the economy. There are only so many ways to strengthen the economy that can get 60 votes and get enacted quickly — these happen to be two of them, and the homebuyer credit needed to be addressed quickly before the current credit expired.—

Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said the measures the GOP pushed were “totally reasonable— but Reid didn’t want votes on them.

“I offered a consent agreement, which would have given us a handful of amendments,— McConnell told reporters Tuesday. “But the Majority Leader didn’t want to have to vote on more amendments. So my view is he doesn’t get to pick our amendments.—

Republicans also charged that with a 60-vote majority, Democrats could vote down any GOP measure. But with broad bipartisan support for the overall measure, which would deliver an additional 14 weeks of unemployment benefits and a total of 20 weeks to hardest-hit states, Democrats saw no advantage in lining up politically tough votes for their caucus.

“Yeah, we could win that vote, but why take it if we don’t have to,— a Democratic aide responded.

Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) was successful in pushing for the extension of the homebuyers tax credit. Reid also included a measure first offered by Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.) granting tax relief to businesses. But fearing the overall bill might become a Christmas tree decorated with unrelated amendments, Reid blocked additional measures from being considered.

One of the main sticking points was an amendment from Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) that would sunset the Troubled Asset Relief Program. The politically sensitive amendment was opposed by the Obama administration and posed a difficult vote for Democrats.

“I think on this particular bill there were some votes [Reid] didn’t want his Members to take,— Thune suggested.

Thune said Republicans were willing to gamble in their demand for amendments — thus temporarily stalling passage — in order to maintain Senate rules and procedure. Still, Thune acknowledged political risk in doing so.

“If you’re someone who’s waiting for unemployment coverage, you probably don’t care how it gets done,— Thune said. “We want to get it done, but we care about how it passes.—