Sparring on the Senate Floor

Last November, the Senate Democrats used the nuclear option to eliminate the filibuster for nominations to the Executive Brand and Judicial Branch (except the Supreme Court). The consequences of that action are still being felt. Last Thursday, as the body tried to evacuate Washington for a two-week recess, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell went after each other on the Floor over which side was doing more damage to the Chamber. Senator Reid accused Republicans of obstructing by demanding the body use all 30 hours of debate that comes after a successful cloture vote. Senator McConnell lobbed back: “If the majority leader doesn’t like the way the Senate’s working, I would recommend he change his behavior. You know, the Senate doesn’t have a rules problem, we have a behavior problem.” At another point in the debate, Republican Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa, who has of late strongly criticized what he says are abuses of the Senate rules by the majority, said, “We’re working under the rules that the majority changed by ignoring the rules of the United States Senate in November”. In all likelihood, the Senate hostilities will continue for some time to come.

Politico: Harry Reid, Mitch McConnell Battle on the Floor

CNN: Anger Over Last Year’s Filibuster Fight Rekindles on Senate Floor

Hatch: Keep Filibuster, Blue Slip to Maintain “Advice and Consent” Role

The Senate Floor last week provided some excellent theatrics over the health of the Chamber, but some are concerned about the committee rooms as well. Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah, the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Ranking Member, recently lamented the demise of Senators’ ability to filibuster for nominations and defended the “blue slip” process. Traditionally, before the Judiciary Committee holds a hearing for a nominee, the Senator’s from the state where the nominee will serve must send their recommendation on a blue-colored paper. This allows a Senator to weigh in on a nominee, and effectively hold up the process by refusing to return the recommendation. Both this practice and the filibuster, he asserts, allow the Senate to take an active role in providing “advice and consent” to the President’s nominations. The filibuster for nominations was eliminated last November, and some have argued that the blue slip process should go too. “Throughout its history, the blue slip process has not resulted in any sort of confirmation ‘bottleneck.’ In fact, the percentage of nominees without positive blue slips is miniscule.  But it has greatly enhanced consultation and cooperation between home state senators and the White House”, Senator Hatch writes. He warns that eliminating the blue slip process will allow the President to nominate without sufficiently considering Senators’ opinions and that the bench will become more politicized.

The Hill: Protect the Senate’s Important “Advice and Consent” Role

Post-Easter Recess 2014 Calendar

Given the difficulties the Senate experienced last week, it’s not surprising that the future doesn’t look to bright either. Congress is out for Passover and Easter until the end of April, but when they come back, they probably won’t be doing a whole lot for much of the rest of this session. With midterm elections coming up in November, it will probably be easiest for Members to avoid handling them until the lame-duck session or leaving them for the incoming Congress entirely. Both sides are likely to continue with various initiatives which they would like to pass, and which satisfy their respective bases, but which do not stand a chance of getting through Congress, like Obamacare reforms for Republicans or raising the minimum wage for Democrats. That being said, Congress will have to pass appropriations bills to keep the government open and the National Defense Authorization Act.

National Journal: Time Is Running Out for Big Bills

Senate Likely to Address Lapsed Tax Breaks

Although Congress is not likely to pass major legislation before the November elections, after it returns from its recess, it may take renew some tax breaks that expired at the end of last year. The approximately 50 tax breaks are aimed at businesses and are estimated to be worth about $85 million over the next decade. None of them have been permanently written into the tax code. “The cost of the package has grown significantly in recent years, along with its size. By now, many of its provisions are too important or too popular to kill, but it has also become too costly to make permanent. As a result, lawmakers periodically wrestle with whether to get rid of some provisions, but usually wind up extending most of them for another year or two”, The Wall Street Journal reported.

The Wall Street Journal: Senate to Tackle Tax Incentives, Energy Efficiency After Recess

And for our latest post: Cracks in the Senatorial Saucer: Filling the Tree, Cloture, and Curtailing Senate Debate