Road Map: Swords Touch in Senate as Battle Looms

Posted March 15, 2010 at 6:49pm

Both chambers are gearing up for the dramatic final showdown over health care, but the Senate in the meantime has decided to play nice and plow through important matters on other fronts.

[IMGCAP(1)]This week will be a continuation of the jobs agenda push by Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), with the Senate passing a $110 billion bill that would extend unemployment insurance and a series of tax provisions.

The chamber also will debate a Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization bill.

In a holding pattern until the House passes the latest version of health care reform legislation, Senate Democrats hoped to build on their successful defeat of Sen. Jim Bunning’s (R-Ky.) filibuster of a short-term extension to unemployment benefits.

After the Senate voted 61-30 Monday to invoke cloture and proceed to debate on the jobs bill, it appeared the GOP would refuse to let Democrats quickly move to a final vote on the bill, and that Democrats were preparing to respond with an all-night session meant to portray Republicans as obstructionists.

Freshman and sophomore Democrats in the Senate have been pushing their leaders to confront GOP delay tactics. For a while, it appeared the chamber would be in for a repeat of the Bunning affair, which saw the Kentucky Republican make many of his Senate GOP colleagues squirm by temporarily blocking action on another jobs measure.

Indeed, Bunning’s filibuster appears to have been something of a watershed moment for Democrats, who have seen their newest Members — traditionally back-benchers with little sway — move to the forefront of the Caucus.

But the showdown quickly fizzled, with the two parties agreeing to debate the FAA bill until the final vote on the jobs legislation, which likely will happen Wednesday morning.

Still, the political fallout from the Bunning dust-up continues. It was, after all, the first time in months Democrats emerged clearly victorious from a major confrontation, and it seemed to throw Senate Republicans into chaos.

Democrats are hoping that passing a series of popular bills will build momentum and inflict pain on the GOP, which could come in handy when the Senate takes up health care again next week.

By distracting Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and his formidable message machine from health care, Democrats could keep the GOP from building the kind of momentum that could peel off Democratic votes for a reconciliation bill.

Aides acknowledged that this week’s fights will be all about jobs and health care, with the use of reconciliation never far from the surface.

“I’m sure there’ll be some of our people who will talk about debt … [but] I think they’ll tie it back into health care,” a senior GOP leadership aide said, adding that, “the primary focus of all of our speakers will be health care.”

According to this aide, Senate Republicans are hoping they can help bolster House Republicans this week and avoid being pulled off message, like they were by Bunning. “When we put our guys in a chorus behind something that’s being sung by the House, it gets a little bit more attention,” the aide said.