Will Harry Reid keep the Senate in session through Christmas?
Senate majority leader Harry Reid wants to take up a slew of important issues after the tax deal is passed – from a $1.2 trillion budget bill to a repeal of 'don't ask, don't tell.'
One day after senators on both sides of the aisle signaled broad support for the deal extending the Bush-era tax cuts, leaders of the two parties indicated how far apart they are on virtually everything else left for the lame-duck session of the Senate.Skip to next paragraph
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On Tuesday, Senate majority leader Harry Reid laid out an ambitious three weeks, potentially keeping senators in Washington through the holidays and calling votes on controversial issues ranging from the START nuclear arms pact to the immigration reform DREAM Act.
Republican leaders, by contrast, offered a more modest agenda: pass the tax-cut deal, pass short-term funding for the government to avoid a shutdown, and go home.
The showdown is a matter of political calculus. Republicans want to delay as much business as possible until after Jan. 4, when the new Congress arrives, bringing with it a Republican majority in the House and five more Republicans in the Senate.
While Democrats don't have the numbers to overcome Republican opposition in the Senate – where 60 votes are needed to halt filibusters – they want to force Republicans into controversial votes against key Democratic priorities.
Among the business that Senator Reid wants to take up before Jan. 4:
- Ratification of a new arms control treaty with Russia (START).
- Ensuring funding for the federal government, now set to expire at midnight on Saturday.
- Passing the DREAM Act, a bill to help those brought to the US illegally as children who are in college or have served two years in the US military.
- Repeal of "don't ask, don't tell," the Clinton-era ban on openly gay servicemen and women in the military.
- Expanded health care for 9/11 first responders.
- Take up pending nominations.
“There is still Congress after Christmas,” Reid said at a briefing with reporters on Tuesday. “Congress ends on Jan. 4. We’re going to continue working on this stuff until we get it done.”
Republicans are balking. “It is impossible to do all of the things that the majority leader laid out without doing – frankly, without disrespecting the institution and without disrespecting one of the two holiest of holidays for Christians and the families of all of the Senate, not just the senators themselves but all of the staff,” said Sen. Jon Kyl (R) of Arizona, the deputy Republican leader.
“It happened last year," he added. "It actually has happened in some previous years. It doesn't have to happen this year.”
From Republicans' perspective, much work remains on passing funding for the government. On Tuesday, Democrats released a 2,000-page spending bill to cover some $1.2 trillion of spending for the fiscal year that began on Oct. 1.
Such catch-all "omnibus" bills are the bane of fiscal conservatives and the tea party movement, which argues that they are so massive that they cannot be adequately scrutinized for earmarks and wasteful spending. They want government funding to be approved in a series of smaller bills, and Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell has signaled his opposition.