Playing Chicken with Christmas

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I can just imagine conversations going on between senators and their spouses right about now.

“Sweetie, I’m sorry, but I’m going to be stuck in Washington all of next week.”

“Darling, no way. You left me alone last year with your in-laws and the kids. I’m not doing another Christmas in Florida without you.”

“Sugar plum, I’m really sorry. But the Senate’s work is not done. And this is my job, my responsibility to our constituents.”

“When you get here, if you get here, the couch will be all made up for you.”

For the second straight year, the Senate looks like it’ll be working right up to Christmas Eve. The blame for this logjam differs depending who you’re listening to. Republicans, led by South Carolina firebrand Jim DeMint, say that Dems are overreaching, that the lame duck is no place for a massive treaty like New START or for major policy decisions like repealing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. It’s also no place for a massive $1.1 trillion omnibus the rolls together the 2011 appropriations bills. “Democrats,” DeMint railed on the floor of the Senate, “clearly didn’t hear the will of the voters in November.” So, DeMint is doing everything he can to block or slow walk the agenda until the Senate reaches Christmas – or, worse, New Years –and Democrats go home in defeat.

Senate Majority Leader harry Reid is having none of this. “My only statement here as to my Republican friends — we’re going to complete the work we have to do here,” Reid told reporters on Tuesday. “I want to get out of here just as soon as we can. But we’re not going to walk away from any of the work that we have to do.” Reid argues that there are the votes to pass many of these items and they should be given due consideration. Reid is also feeling pressure from his base as most of the agenda – Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, the DREAM Act, the 911 first responders bill, the START treaty and the omnibus – wouldn’t likely pass under expanded Republican majorities when the new Congress arrives in January. So this is the last shot for much of what the Dems would like to accomplish and Reid isn’t going to give it up without a fight, even if it means working through Christmas.

So, we have a game of chicken going on. (It’s actually kind of amusing to listen to both sides out-Christian each other on the Senate floor in their pious exultations of Christmas and what a travesty and sacrilege it would be to work through the Holiday.) So far, DeMint folded on at least one of his threats: to have the clerk read the START treaty aloud – a process that would’ve taken upwards of 20 hours. DeMint swears, though, that he will have the clerk read the 2,000-page omnibus which is estimated to take two days. Senators, I hope you have comfortable couches.