Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) may cause a government shutdown.
Senator Reid is employing a procedural strategy to deal with the House-passed long-term Continuing Resolution (CR), H.R. 1, that may make it more likely that the federal government will shut down when the government runs out of money on March 18. Remember this when we get closer to March 18 and both parties blame each other for failing to pass an appropriations bill to fund the government through September 30 of this year (the end of Fiscal Year 2011).
The House passed a long-term CR on February 19 by a 235–189 vote. The long-term CR funds the federal government for the remainder of Fiscal Year 2011 and contains $61 billion in cuts from FY 2010 levels of spending.
The House ended up with the $61 billion total after a week-long open debate with hundreds of amendments filed and a virtually unlimited amendment process. The House ended a five-day debate with over 40 hours of debate, over 500 amendments filed, over 150 amendments offered and over 100 recorded votes. This is extraordinary for the House, and Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) should be applauded for this relatively open process to consider a controversial appropriations measure.
While the House was working hard to pass this important measure, the Senate was preparing for a vacation. They did nothing on the long-term CR. Not one vote, not any debate, nor did they craft a competing measure to fund the government for the remainder of the year. They went on vacation. At that time the federal government was scheduled to run out of discretionary appropriations money on March 4.
The House and Senate had to agree to a short-term CR, because Senate Majority Leader Reid refused to allow the Senate to vote on the House-passed long-term CR. The two chambers hammered out an agreement to pass a short-term CR, H.J. Res. 44, which puts off a potential government shutdown until March 18. Now the Senate has H.R. 1 sitting on the calendar, and Senator Reid has finally announced his plan to deal with that appropriations measure.
Reid’s plan is to force two controlled political votes on the long-term CR. The Senate is expected to have one vote on the Democrat plan followed by one on the Republican plan. It seems that Reid has no intention of allowing a free-flowing debate and amendments in the Senate. According to Bloomberg:
The Senate’s top Democrat said he wants votes next week on House Republicans’ $61 billion budget-cutting plan and a Democratic alternative as lawmakers battle over spending levels for the rest of this fiscal year. Both proposals are likely to fail, signaling to lawmakers—including House Republican freshmen who are demanding big cuts in spending—that neither plan can get through the Senate.
Senator Reid knows his controlled strategy will not produce an agreement on the long-term CR. He is merely playing a political game to garner a better negotiating position approaching March 18.
“Not to spoil the surprise, but we all know how this vote will turn out — we know neither will reach the president’s desk as written,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat. After the votes “we at least know where we stand” and can “move this ball down the road a little further,” he said.
This procedural tactic violates the agreement between Senator Reid and Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) earlier this year to allow a free amendment process in the Senate. Reid had been using an obstructionist procedural tactic to block all amendments for the purposes of controlling the Senate schedule and avoiding any politically harmful votes for his members over the past four years. In this new year, Reid promised to cease the tactic, commonly known as “Filling the Tree.”
According to The Hill:
The reforms include an end to secret holds, a reduction in the number of presidential nominations subject to the lengthy Senate confirmation process, an end to mandatory readings for amendments if they’ve been publicly available for at least three days, an agreement by Republicans to limit their filibusters of motions to begin debate, and an agreement by Democrats to limit instances in which they “fill the tree”—or limit the number of amendments Republicans can put to a given piece of legislation.
Not only does this tactic violate Reid’s promise not to “fill the tree,” it makes it less likely that the House and Senate will come to an agreement. The House has worked out and voted on a position. On the other hand, Reid refuses to allow the Senate to work its will and settle on a position. Reid wants to do it himself, and he is unwilling to engage in good faith negotiations with the House.
These are dangerous procedural games being played by Senate Majority Leader Reid.
The bottom line is that Reid’s actions may cause a government shutdown. Speaker John Boehner allowed the House to work its will, and the House produced a bill after days of negotiations, amendments and votes. As retired Senator Arlen Specter (D-PA) said so well in his retirement speech, Senator Reid’s use of the “filling the tree” to block votes is “tyrannical.” Reid promised not to do it, yet he seems to be prepared to employ that tyrannical strategy to block passage of the long-term CR.
Reid has filed cloture on the motion to proceed to H.R. 1, and votes are expected on Tuesday. The expectation is that Reid will allow a vote only on an amendment by Senator Daniel Inouye (D-HI) containing the Senate version of a long-term CR and then file cloture on the underlying House passed long-term CR. These strong-arm tactics by Reid should not be looked upon favorably by the media nor the American people, because it is a naked attempt to fool the American people into believing that the Senate has taken a good faith run at passing the long-term Continuing Resolution.