Lame Duck Bingo

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There are a lot of bills floating around this lame duck – most of them lacking the mojo to pass – the ratification of the nuclear START treaty with Russia, the DREAM Act helping the children of illegal immigrants, the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, the defense reauthorization bill, the renewal of the Bush tax cuts and a resolution continuing the funding of the federal government. This morning, hours after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid filed for cloture on the DREAM Act, the Senate GOP leadership decided to focus Reid’s attention. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell put out a letter signed by the 42 (welcome, Mark Kirk) Republicans in the Senate refusing to agree to cloture on any thing until the CR and tax cuts are passed. So much for that spirit of bipartisanship that was much tooted at yesterday’s slurpee summit. From the letter:

The nation’s unemployment level, stuck near 10 percent, is unacceptable to Americans.  Senate Republicans have been urging Congress to make private-sector job creation a priority all year.  President Obama in his first speech after the November election said “we owe” it to the American people to “focus on those issues that affect their jobs.”  He went on to say that Americans “want jobs to come back faster.”  Our constituents have repeatedly asked us to focus on creating an environment for private-sector job growth; it is time that our constituents’ priorities become the Senate’s priorities.

For that reason, we write to inform you that we will not agree to invoke cloture on the motion to proceed to any legislative item until the Senate has acted to fund the government and we have prevented the tax increase that is currently awaiting all American taxpayers.  With little time left in this Congressional session, legislative scheduling should be focused on these critical priorities.  While there are other items that might ultimately be worthy of the Senate’s attention, we cannot agree to prioritize any matters above the critical issues of funding the government and preventing a job-killing tax hike.

Passing the CR before the end of the week is a must, given that the government’s funding will run out if nothing is done. The tax cuts are another matter. Usually, Congress leaves the most difficult issues until the last possible minute to deal with them. Dealing with the cuts could, conceivably, have been pushed until January. By forcing a resolution now, the Republicans are holding the rest of the Democratic lame duck agenda hostage. The clock is ticking: if the President’s negotiators don’t come to an agreement with their GOP counterparts in the next couple of weeks, the entire Democratic lame duck agenda could go down.

Agenda is, perhaps, too ambitious of a word for DADT, DREAM, START and the defense reauthorization bill. The recent posturing on DREAM shows there are probably not the votes in the Senate to see it done. Both DADT and START are stuck, for different reasons. If the administration can pass even one of these three on the back of the defense bill, it’ll be a victory. Either way, if compromises can’t be made soon the Senate looks likely to spend a second Christmas Eve in a row in Washington.