Road Map: Reid, Pelosi Switch to Political Brawls

War Supplemental Looms, but Leaders Shift Focus to Election-Year Fodder

Posted July 26, 2010 at 6:34pm

Democratic leaders in the House and Senate this week have a few pesky substantive legislative efforts to wrap up as lawmakers shift into full-time campaign mode. But make no mistake, the silly season of political Kabuki theater has already arrived.

Members will have to clear a supplemental war spending bill and small-
business jobs legislation before the upcoming August recess. But from campaign finance fights to denunciations of BP and the perpetrators of the Wikileaks release, Members in both chambers will devote this week largely to the pursuit of the rhetorical arts and less to the difficult task of legislative compromise.

With passage of most appropriations bills all but an impossibility at this point and only a handful of major bills with a realistic chance of making it to the president’s desk, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) are increasingly focusing their sights on politically themed fights.

The Senate will kick off its election-minded legislating today when Democrats force a doomed cloture vote on tough new campaign finance disclosure rules. The DISCLOSE Act, aimed at undermining the Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, would impose strict new disclosure rules on corporations and most interest groups and lobbying organizations.

Despite efforts by Democratic Conference Vice Chairman Charles Schumer (N.Y.), the bill’s architect, to woo Republicans such as Sen. Scott Brown (Mass.), no GOPers have broken ranks with their own leadership to back the measure. With a number of Democrats opposing the bill, Schumer and Reid have no realistic hope it will pass.

But even Democratic aides acknowledge the debate is less about actually passing a bill and more about using the issue to frame the GOP as beholden to corporate interests. And on Monday that heated rhetoric was on full display.

Schumer argued the legislation was aimed at avoiding “a cottage industry of Swift Boat-style shadow groups, groups that do not make democracy proud. … We have a clear choice tomorrow — we can vote to debate how to make our elections more open and transparent, or we can bow to special interests that seek to influence our elections.”

Republicans, for their part, are more than happy to engage in what both parties call “defining” food fights, such as the one over the DISCLOSE Act. On Monday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) invoked the infamous “Cornhusker Kickback,” a reference to a deal that Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) initially brokered for his home state during the health care reform debate, to slam the DISCLOSE bill.

“The authors of the bill have decided to trade our Constitutional rights away in a backroom deal that makes the Cornhusker Kickback look like a model of legislative transparency,” McConnell said in a statement.

Although the Senate will likely detour from the close-quarters political combat for a few days to resume work on a small-business bill, Reid has already teed up the next defining fight with energy legislation.

Although the legislation is significantly pared down from its original goal of creating new climate change rules, Democrats are hoping to use the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico — and the fact that Republicans are already vowing to oppose the bill — to further associate the Republicans with BP and other large interests, a campaign theme that they will employ relentlessly between now and Election Day, according to Democratic aides.

Unlike the campaign finance bill, the BP proposal, which is expected to be released today, does have a chance of passing the Senate, though not until Democrats have used it as a political bludgeon against Republicans.

At the same time, House Democrats have a full plate planned for their final week in town. They have put clearing the $60 billion war supplemental at the top of their list. They also have to contend with a privileged War Powers Resolution from opponents of war efforts in Pakistan, part of the fallout from Wikileaks divulging 90,000 pages of secret war documents.

The first two regular appropriations bills so far this year are also headed to the floor, with Republicans prepared to blast Democrats for loading them up with earmarks while the GOP engages in a one-year moratorium on securing the pots of federal cash.

Democrats also plan to vote on several of their “Make It in America” manufacturing agenda items as they look for something to talk about on jobs heading to the August break, especially with the Senate unable to pass an aid package for states to prevent teacher layoffs.

House Democrats are also still considering what to put on the floor to deal with the aftermath of the BP oil spill. There has been an internal dispute between Democrats eager to enact a host of tough new regulations to try to prevent a future disaster and other Democrats who fear a tough drilling bill could delay new offshore exploration and hurt the struggling economy.