This was the trade made in the Senate last night; the Dems will get legislative repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, a couple judges, and probably the new START Treaty, and the Republicans will get the chance to massively cut spending early in the 112th Congress.
If I’m a Republican, I take that trade.
This all came about last night, when several Senate Republicans on the Appropriations Committee picked up the football, and informed Harry Reid that they would renege on their support of the $1.1 trillion dollar omnibus spending bill which they had worked on for close to a year. Because Republicans signaled a willingness to filibuster the omnibus, even if the government shut down as a result, Reid suddenly didn’t have the votes for anything but a short-term continuing resolution, probably for two months until February 18. The angry exchanges from Democrats were obvious on the floor last night, but in the end, the Republicans got a big win.
Durbin barked under his breath at McConnell, but ultimately vented his frustrations through Reid. “I would like to ask the Majority Leader, does he recall the time when I returned from the Appropriations Committee and said that Senator McConnell had come to the committee and said that he was going to establish the maximum amount that he would vote for in all the appropriations bill…$1.108 trillion?” said Durbin in a veiled accusation of hypocrisy. “And I said to the Majority Leader, I think ultimately that’s what we’re going to be voting for is Senator McConnell’s number?”
Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) weighed in. “We had to cut the money to meet the [Republican] level…and that’s what we have before us and that’s what we’re being told, after a year’s worth of work, that somehow we don’t have the capability of knowing what’s in this bill.”
Minutes later, in one of the most chortling colloquies of the 111th Congress, Sens. John McCain (R-AZ) and Mark Kirk (R-IL) gloated over the defeat of the spending bill.
Kirk, the most junior member of the Senate asked, “Did we just win?”
McCain responded, “I think there’s very little doubt that the Majority Leader of the United States Senate would not have taken the action he just took if we didn’t have 41 votes to stop this monstrosity.”
In a sign of how things will go in the near future, Reid gave up on the omnibus, but in the process, he scheduled two cloture votes, on the DREAM Act and the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. Both came back from the Senate with a “privileged” message, so they require only one cloture vote. How it will apparently work is that DREAM will get the first cloture vote. If it passes, it gets 30 hours of debate, and a final vote. If it fails, the Senate will move directly to DADT repeal. This will happen on Saturday morning, with a final vote for whatever passes on Sunday night or Monday morning.
Typically, when votes are “stacked” like this (I put that in quotes because the votes are not technically stacked), it means that the first one is expected to fail. None of the whip counts for the DREAM Act I’ve seen get to 60, even though two Republicans – Robert Bennett and Richard Lugar – have pledged support. If it did get to 60 it would knock out the DADT repeal vote until possibly Monday. And Ron Wyden (D-OR) will undergo prostate cancer surgery that day, and will be out of the Senate for much for next week. This puts a priority on getting things done over the weekend. Wyden will be on the Senate floor this weekend for votes.
This is all very good news for DADT repeal. There was a sense that the White House was stalling that vote in the Senate, being more interested in the new START treaty. They certainly are, and using fierce advocacy to do it, but constrained by Wyden and looking at a short calendar, the Senate went its own way. DADT repeal appears to have the votes in hand, and Harry Reid made the decision that he would get a consolation prize out of this.
There were a couple other consolation prizes. The Senate confirmed four federal judges last night, out of the 38 on the executive calendar. These four had been waiting the longest for the Senate to act. A Reid spokesman said the four confirmations were “just the start” of eliminating the backlog of judicial nominees. In addition, the omnibus had some pretty bad measures attached to it, including a second engine for the F-35 and a ban on civilian trials for Guantanamo detainees. Both of those won’t happen, at least not in the near future. Also, Jay Rockefeller no longer has a good vehicle for his amendment to stop the EPA from carbon regulation. The fact that he’s talking about “suspending the rules” to attach the measure to something, which would require a 2/3 vote, is very good news. Rockefeller may have close to 60 votes to block EPA regulations, but he doesn’t have 67. Kay Bailey Hutchison’s anti-net neutrality amendment has no legislative vehicle now, either.
But in general, while Reid played hardball after the fact, this is a classic Lucy with the football moment. There were two major things to move in the lame duck, according to Republicans: the tax cuts, and funding the government. They now got what they wanted out of both. For some insane reason, Democrats didn’t insist on those two measures moving together, so Republicans couldn’t pull back their support of the omnibus like they did last night. One could have been a condition of the other.
Instead, Republicans will have a chance in February of next year to set spending levels. The Democrats could have pushed this off until October, and could have written it into the tax cut deal as well. They failed to do that. And if anyone thinks that the result will not be a slashing of vital social safety net spending, take a look at how Reid folded last night, trading other priorities. The “stimulus” from the tax cut deal is GONE. It’ll be gone by February, at least. Republicans are fulfilling the Norquistian promise of lowering taxes massively, and then using that lack of revenue as a pretext to cut social spending. That’s what’ll happen in February. And the debt limit vote provides just another opportunity.
The only way out of this is for the President to say today, after singing the tax cut bill, “Now we need to give time for the tax cuts to work. Therefore, I will veto any bill that reduces spending across the government for this year and the next, because we must keep aggregate demand high.”
Anyone want to place bets on that happening?