The House of Representatives passed a bill to support Ukraine last week, and the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations is working to follow suit. Chairman Robert Menendez of New Jersey and Ranking Member Bob Corker of Tennessee have been working to hammer out a bill to provide assistance to Ukraine plus issue sanctions against Russia in retaliation for its invasion of Crimea. A markup of the bill was expected for Tuesday, but it will most likely be held on Wednesday. The Senate bill will probably be more comprehensive than House legislation, which only provided assistance to Ukraine, without imposing sanctions on Russia, which will be covered by a different bill. A couple issues will need to be resolved before the Senate bill advances. One is whether to include provisions reforming the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which the Democrats tend to favor, but which some Republicans oppose. Republicans also would like to speed up the process of exporting liquefied natural gas to Ukraine. It is unclear whether the Senate will pass the bill before next week’s recess.
Even if the Ukraine aid package does not get through the Senate this week, the Chamber will probably finish work on a bill to provide child-care assistance to parents in need. One of the most remarkable things about this bill is that it is due to be debated under more “open” conditions than legislation usually is. Traditionally, Senators have the opportunity for unlimited debate and amendment, but the parties often agree on certain limitations on length of debate and the number and kinds of amendments that may be offered. However, over the last several Congresses, the majority party leadership has taken more steps to lock the minority out of the process. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, for instance, has used a practice called “filling the amendment tree” to block Republican amendments more than any of his predecessors. This week, however, debate on the child-care bill is be more open than usual, with each side having the same amount of time to speak and amend the bill. This attempt at a return to “regular order,” as it is called, is a result of the initiative of Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer of New York and Republican Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee. The duo has worked together on a number of occasions to promote healthy bipartisan relations in the Senate.
Although Senator Schumer and Senator Alexander are working to make the Senate a more friendly and productive place, they have an uphill battle. There are potential pitfalls anywhere, from anyone. President Barack Obama is learning that the hard way. Last week, seven Democrats voted against a nominee for the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice. Now, a number of key supporters have pledged to oppose another, Judge Michael Boggs, whom the President has named to the District Court for Georgia. Representative David Scott of Georgia and abortion promotion group NARAL Pro-Choice America have both criticized the pick. Representative Scott has characterized Boggs as “anti-civil rights, anti-choice, [and] anti-marriage equality”. Judge Boggs had served in the state legislature when it considered whether to remove the Confederate flag from its state flag; Boggs opted against the move. NARAL criticized a number of pro-life votes Boggs made. And why would the President nominate someone vehemently opposed by his own supporters? Because of a Senate courtesy known as the “blue slip” process. When a President nominates a person to sit on the Federal bench, the Senate Judiciary Committee holds off on holding a hearing until both Senators from the state in question signify their assent, which gives them tremendous leverage over the process. One administration counsel termed the blue slip process “a silent, unaccountable veto”. Judge Boggs was nominated as part of a compromise with Republicans to fill judicial vacancies in Georgia.
And, of course, the nomination process is not the only area where the Congress is gummed up. Budget pundit Stan Collender contends that Congress won’t move at all on the budget process for the rest of the year. Senate Budget Committee Chairman Patty Murray has said that her committee will not produce a budget this year, and Collender suspects that the House Committee will not either, out of concern that it might not pass. Further, he notes that it would be particularly difficult to pass all the appropriations bills by the end of the fiscal year, since the House has so few legislative days scheduled. Finally, with a potential shift in control of the Senate, Republicans might wish to delay passing the spending bills until they have a greater say over the process.
And for our latest post: More Nuclear-Option Fallout: Senate Blocks Presidential Appointment