Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is attempting a high-stakes gamble, tying the payroll tax/unemployment insurance legislation that the House will vote on today with the omnibus spending bill to avoid a government shutdown. Without compromise on the former, according to Reid, the latter cannot pass.
Here are some remarks from Reid on the Senate floor from a few minutes ago:
I spoke to the Speaker yesterday. This is what I told him: we are not going to finish the work of our country this year unless we work together.
He can’t pass anything in the House without Democratic votes, because anything you pass with strictly Republican votes fails over here.
In the Senate, we can’t pass anything unless we get Republican votes. It’s a fact of life.
And we have issues, we must complete this year. As I explained to the Speaker yesterday, we have to do this together.
So I’m very disappointed in what the Speaker has done to his payroll tax proposal to get Tea Party votes.
Speaker Boehner had to add ideological candy coating to his bill to get rebellious, rank-and-file Republicans on board.
It goes further than that, however. Not only will Reid block the payroll tax/UI legislation as it stands, he vowed the Senate would reject the omnibus, just negotiated by House and Senate appropriators, without a compromise agreement.
The appropriations work was nearly complete and Republican aides were pushing the idea that umbrella legislation to fund most of the government lay on a separate table from the payroll holiday. If the appropriations bills were to pass smoothly, House Republicans could have separately lobbed Senate Dems their payroll bill, and left for the holidays knowing the government wouldn’t shut down.
That’s when Democratic aides started rumbling that the appropriations bills weren’t ready to go. Indeed, according to top aides Reid is negotiating them as a unit with the payroll tax cut and other issues to limit the GOP’s ability to extract Democratic concessions. That means the GOP will have one shot — not two — at forcing the Dems to adopt their riders, and Dems are pressing them to drop proposed restrictions five key issues: public funding for abortions in DC, funding for the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, DOD coal mine reclamation, efficiency standards for light bulbs, and travel to Cuba.
I knew about the Cuba travel restrictions, but not the other riders in the appropriations package. But this is more about gaining leverage for the payroll tax cut and unemployment insurance, I think. The House wanted to pass its legislation and force the Senate to agree, so the Democrats used the omnibus spending bill to block House Republicans from jamming the Senate with the bill, passing it and leaving town. Either all the year-end measures move or none of them move, according to Reid. And that gives the Democrats a negotiating position.
Meanwhile, the government shuts down December 16, so there’s not much time for an agreement. The best-case scenario for an agreement, paradoxically, might be a failure in the House on their bill today. That would rid them of leverage over the final product, and potentially force acceptance of a bill that can pass the Senate. But Senate Republicans have been unbending in their own right. I think the chances are elevated that nothing happens, and the government could even shut down on Friday.
Whatever the outcome, Reid certainly made a bold tactical move to head off a tough choice for his party.
UPDATE: And another development. The White House officially threatened a veto of the House payroll tax/UI bill. The odds of no agreement are rising.