Both Chambers Feeling Déjà Vu This Week on Multiple Bills

Posted June 19, 2010 at 10:35am

If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.

So goes the mantra Senate Democrats are likely to repeat as they continue pushing a tax extenders package that has been on the floor for three full weeks.

They made some progress Friday by striking a deal with Republicans on delaying scheduled cuts to Medicare doctor payments. The provision was in the extenders package, but the Senate passed the compromise Medicare language as a separate bill.

However, Speaker Nancy Pelosi indicated in a statement released late Friday that the House would not accept the Senate’s “doc fix” bill, complicating the path to enactment for both the tax extenders package and a “doc fix.”

Still, Senate Democrats hope to dispose of the extenders bill once and for all next week.

The $118 billion package funds unemployment insurance and extends certain expiring tax provisions. Republicans have maintained the measure should include offsets, while Democrats say the package qualifies as emergency spending.

Democrats have lost two procedural votes to shut down debate on the measure. On Thursday night, two members of the Senate Democratic Conference — Joe Lieberman (ID-Conn.) and Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) — joined all Republicans present in voting against the motion to end debate.

After the 56-40 vote on the motion fell four shy of the 60 needed for adoption, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) told reporters, “We’re not going to give up.”

Aides suggest Reid might try to pivot to other legislation on food safety or small-business loans while he tries to strike a deal on extenders, but Republicans say that remains unlikely.

In the meantime, the chamber is scheduled to convene at 2 p.m. Monday to consider judicial nominees: Mark Goldsmith, nominated to the eastern district of Michigan; Marc Treadwell, nominated to the middle district of Georgia; and Josephine Stanton Tucker, nominated to the central district of California. Votes on all three nominees are scheduled for Monday evening.

Members in both chambers are scheduled to adjourn July 2nd for a weeklong recess. In the two work weeks until then, House and Senate conferees on financial regulatory reform are expected to vote out a conference report, while the Senate Judiciary panel is scheduled to begin confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan the week of June 28th.

Like the Senate, next week’s list of possible agenda items in the House looks noticeably similar to the previous week’s, underscoring the difficulty Democratic leaders have encountered readying major bills for floor action.

If proponents of a campaign finance measure are able stem opposition from opposite flanks of their caucus, they could bring up that measure, which is aimed at rolling back a January Supreme Court ruling that lifted spending limits on unions and corporations.

Democratic leaders punted late Thursday night on plans to bring up the bill when they were unable to overcome strong opposition from Congressional Black Caucus members to a special exemption for the National Rifle Association. The exemption was designed to shore up support from moderates.

But the conservative Blue Dogs are worried that the bill — which is fiercely opposed by business groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce — will go nowhere in the Senate and don’t want to have to cast yet another politically challenging vote for legislation that stalls in the other chamber.

But Pelosi is determined to pass the measure, which she described last week as “fundamental to our democracy.”

Doc Fix Pressure

In a move designed to pressure the Senate to more comprehensively address the “doc fix,” Pelosi said late Friday that the House would not take up the six-month bill the Senate passed Friday but would instead wait for an extenders package from the Senate.

“I see no reason to pass this inadequate bill until we see jobs legislation coming out of the Senate,” Pelosi said in a statement. “House Democrats are saying to Republicans in the Senate: show us the jobs!”

A House Democratic leadership aide said leaders were committed to retroactively restoring the Medicare payment cuts, which took effect Friday, in whatever legislation ultimately clears.

Pelosi spokesman Nadeam Elshami said Democratic leaders in the House — which in November passed legislation blocking the payment cut and restructuring the Medicare payment formula on a long-term basis — “remain committed to ensuring that our seniors and veterans receive the care they deserve.”

The House also could take up the tax extenders package languishing in the Senate, a Democratic leadership aide said Friday. A supplemental spending measure to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is another possible contender for floor action, although Appropriations Chairman David Obey (D-Wis.) has said he would prefer to wait for the Senate to pass the extenders bill before tackling the supplemental.

Obey has proposed adding $23 billion to the supplemental to stave off teacher layoffs, but leaders likely would have to offset — and possibly scale back — any teacher money to prevent widespread opposition from Blue Dogs.

“If it’s not paid for, you’re harping on deaf ears as far as I’m concerned,” said Rep. Bobby Bright (D-Ala.), a Blue Dog facing a tough re-election fight.

The clock is ticking on the supplemental, which the Senate passed last month. Testifying at a Senate hearing last week, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said he was increasingly concerned about the House’s inaction on the supplemental and said the military would have to begin planning to curtail defense operations if the measure is not enacted by July 4. Pelosi told reporters June 17 that the House was “on track” to meet that goal.

“We are trying to pay for some of the things that are in the bill,” Pelosi said. “And when we get our pay-fors, we will proceed to the floor.”