Road Map: Reid Considers Pivoting Away From Extenders

Posted June 21, 2010 at 6:22pm

After weeks of trying and failing to pass an unemployment and tax extenders package, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is considering temporarily cutting bait.

The Nevada Democrat is continuing to negotiate with a handful of moderates in both parties to try to craft a compromise that would result “in the strongest bill possible and still get 60” votes, a senior Democratic aide said.

But that appears to be easier said than done, and if a deal does not look likely in the next day or two, Reid may move on to one of the many other less controversial items languishing on the agenda: small-business jobs legislation, an aviation reauthorization measure, a firefighters collective bargaining bill and a slew of executive branch nominations.

Reid also could move to one of several conference reports — most likely financial regulatory reform or an Iran sanctions proposal — although those measures aren’t necessarily a slam-dunk for him, either.

Or, Reid could try to take up a supplemental spending measure — assuming the House passes it in the next day or so. But the supplemental is lower on the to-do list, primarily because it would likely meet the same type of resistance Reid has seen from Senators on the extenders package. Members have made clear that they are tired of deficit spending.

For weeks, Reid and Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) have attempted to win support for their extenders package from a handful of moderates. Targets of the intense lobbying campaign include GOP Sens. Scott Brown (Mass.), Olympia Snowe (Maine) and Susan Collins (Maine), as well as Democrats such as Sens. Ben Nelson (Neb.) and Mary Landrieu (La.).

Yet even after offering up multiple variations of the measure — including cutting its cost and carving out a provision extending Medicare payments to doctors — Reid remains at least four votes shy.

“It’s moving in the right direction, but it’s not there yet,” Collins said last week.

Reid’s frustration was on full display Monday. During a floor speech, the Democratic leader warned that the Senate’s inaction has consequences.

“When the Senate refuses to pass good bills, the good people in our states pay the price. I hope we can avoid more of that this week, that we can come together and work productively. Right now, loopholes reward corporations for shipping jobs out of America, putting them out of the reach of the many unemployed workers in each of our states,” Reid said.

Reid on Monday also rejected a GOP proposal to pass a 30-day extension of the measure; he accused Republicans of embracing fiscal restraint now because they are no longer in power.

“I’m very amazed at the logic of my friends on the other side of the aisle [who] suddenly see fiscal austerity … as the way to go when the wild spending went for eight years without a word having been spoken,” Reid said.

But Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) shot back and previewed what Reid can expect to hear from Republicans as the debate over the deficit continues.

“Our friends on the other side still don’t see to get it. … The best part of all is their justification — you guessed it. They want to blame President Bush for their own unwillingness to pay for the bill,” McConnell said, adding that, “Well, I’ve got some news for our friends on the other side. Nobody’s buying that anymore.”

The two leaders will continue to duke it out over the debt and deficit spending, but they are also preparing to square off this week on another front — Elena Kagan’s nomination to the Supreme Court.

The Judiciary Committee is scheduled to begin Kagan’s confirmation hearings at 12:30 p.m. on June 28. And leading into that high-profile vetting, McConnell is expected to roll out a series of arguments regarding the now-solicitor general’s fitness for the high court.

Likewise, Reid is planning to mount an aggressive defense of Kagan in the coming days. He will be buttressed by Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (Vt.), who will lead Democratic committee members in a weeklong string of floor speeches and public events touting her credentials.

Judiciary ranking member Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) has been out front in trying to trip up Kagan’s nomination by questioning her support for the military and her lack of courtroom experience.

But those attacks have yet to gain much traction, both under and outside the Dome. Kagan has thus far avoided any major missteps, and Republican Senators have yet to produce any damning information that would derail her installment on the court. Republicans are hoping they can change the dynamics before next week.