The year might be winding down, but Harry Reid’s 2013 schedule for the Senate is winding up.
The Senate majority leader is jam-packing the upper chamber of Congress’ to-do list, warning lawmakers could work through the weekend and Christmas Eve if they do not in a timely fashion confirm high-profile presidential nominees, in addition to greenlighting a budget bill and Defense Authorization Act.
“Christmas is one week from Wednesday—we have a lot to do,” the Nevada Democrat said on Monday. “We could complete all of our work by Thursday, by Friday, By Saturday, by Sunday, by Monday or Tuesday. But finish it we must.”
Meanwhile, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell skewered Reid’s performance over the past year, insisting on Tuesday that the Senate was “being run into the ground” under Reid’s leadership. “I hope that one of the majority leader’s New Year’s resolutions is going to operate the Senate in quite a different manner.”
“It’s going to be hard to get the Senate back to normal,” the Kentucky Republican added, arguing that, under Reid, lawmakers rarely get to express themselves and few amendments are allowed on the Senate floor. “It’s a big step in the wrong direction for our country,” said McConnell.
In a key procedural vote Tuesday, McConnell voted to block the bipartisan budget agreement that had already passed in the House. The plan, however, cleared a major hurdle when 12 Republicans joined Senate Democrats in voting 67-33 to end debate on the bill. It needed 60 votes to break a fillibuster.
Tensions over Republicans’ past unprecedented use of the filibuster, and Reid’s subsequent response, may be what will keep senators on Capitol Hill for the holidays. Reid’s declaration comes after a week of political infighting, which is being attributed to Senate Democrats’ decision last month to “go nuclear.” The move got rid of a 60-vote requirement to confirm the president’s nominees.
But Republicans, in turn, employed delaying tactics, running the clock for 30 hours until nearly 1 a.m. on Thursday to confirm Nina Pillard, Obama’s pick to serve on the powerful D.C. Circuit Court. The tactic threatens Reid’s desire to finish 2013’s legislative business, as there are more nominee votes scheduled over the next few days.
What remains unclear is whether Republicans will continue to use procedural roadblocks to eat up more time or if they will move swiftly to pass legislation and adjourn for the holidays.
The Senate on Monday confirmed Jeh Johnson as homeland security secretary, to take over Janet Napolitano’s post. Johnson’s good standing with Senate Republicans – a result of his time as the former Pentagon general counsel – is believed to have helped him secure the confirmation.
Anne W. Patterson, the current U.S. ambassador to Egypt, was also confirmed on Monday to become the assistant secretary of state in charge of near Eastern affairs.
On Monday, Reid said he wants to advance several more nominees, including Janet Yellen for Federal Reserve chairm and John Koskinen to head the Internal Revenue Service. The nominee votes are expected to take place after the Senate deals with the budget and defense authorization bills, which are both expected to go up for a vote on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, Kentucky Reupblican Sen. Rand Paul—a fierce critic of the federal reserve—is threatening to delay Yellen’s confirmation by using the allotted 30 hours of debate, the same tactic used during Pillard’s confirmation.
“We’ll try to slow it down or stop it as much as we can,” Paul told reporters. The Kentucky GOPer added he’d allow the vote to move forward if he gets a vote on his Federal Reserve audit proposal.