Policy: Entitlements

Republican frustration with Harry Reid's iron hand in the Senate boils over

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Beltway Confidential,Opinion,Congress,Senate,Harry Reid,Entitlements,Charles Hoskinson,Unemployment

If you're watching as the Senate Thursday dragged through consideration of a bill to extend unemployment benefits and wondering why it's taking so long -- and why it may fail, you can blame Majority Leader Harry Reid.

Reid, D-Nev., wants the bill to pass so badly he's fast-tracked it past the usual committee process and made sure no one can try to amend it. Even though he might have the votes — a procedural vote Monday was approved by the 60-vote supermajority needed to overcome a filibuster — Republicans are making sure to drag out the process for as long as they can.

It's not just because most oppose the bill. This is payback for years of frustration with Reid's iron-fisted control of Senate procedures that protects Democrats from making tough votes and puts Republicans in tight spots on every issue. The frustration has simmered since Nov. 21 when Reid invoked the "nuclear option" to change Senate rules and block filibusters of most nominees, and boiled over Thursday.

"The Senate ... is destroying itself," wrote GOP Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee in a piece for Politico Magazine, placing the blame squarely on Reid, whom he said was doing the bidding of President Obama. "The Senate has become a one-man show, orchestrated by the White House."

During floor debate on the bill, Sen. Dan Coats, R-Ind., who had previously served in the Senate before Reid became majority leader in 2007, expressed his frustration over blocked GOP amendments, saying: "This is 100 percent different from the time I was here last time."

Reid responded that the changes were because Republicans had abused the filibuster and engaged in unprecedented obstruction of Senate business. But his digging in made Republicans even angrier -- Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., who, like Coats, was one of six Republicans who voted to consider the bill, hinted that it might change their minds.

"I voted in good faith," Ayotte said, before another attempt to get her amendment considered failed on a 42-54 vote.

Meanwhile, Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky -- with an eye to the upcoming congressional elections -- on Wednesday made a plea during floor debate for a restoration of the committee and amendment process, along with the rule allowing filibusters.

"The real problem has been a growing lack of confidence in the Senate’s ability to mediate the tensions and disputes we’ve always had around here. ... For the good of the country, we need to work together to restore the Senate to its purpose," he said.

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