December 12, 2013

Progress in House, but contentiousness continues in Senate

Republicans try to block the president’s nominees, but the votes come through.

By Laurie Kellman
The Associated Press

(Continued from page 1)

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House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., left, and Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray, D-Wash., announce a tentative agreement between Republican and Democratic negotiators on a government spending plan, at the Capitol in Washington on Tuesday.

The Associated Press

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What’s more, House conservatives didn’t kill it outright, although some grumbled about the spending levels. Liberals, meanwhile, complained that the deal would not include an extension of unemployment benefits set to expire Dec. 28 for 1.3 million Americans.

But the deal survived the day.

The negotiators spoke Wednesday of finding common ground, however narrow, in pursuit of a larger goal.

“On balance, my view is this is a step forward,” said Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md. “A small one, but a step forward.”

Ryan told the House Rules Committee, “We have shown that we can work together.”

In the Senate, it wasn’t immediately clear whether Republican conservatives would follow their House counterparts and grudgingly accept the Ryan-Murray budget, or rebel against it.

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., who like Ryan is counted among his party’s presidential contenders, criticized the deal. “‘I think to walk away from the already agreed-upon reductions in spending that were so difficult to achieve, I think opens the floodgates that really threaten to put us right back in these spending habits, and really, we’re going to continue to have a government that spends more money than it takes in,” he said.

In any case, GOP senators were focused Wednesday and early Thursday on doing what they could to protest the Democrats’ change in Senate rules. On Nov. 21, Democrats pared the threshold for stopping filibusters from 60 votes to a simple majority. The lower threshold applies to nearly all presidential nominations but does not affect nominated Supreme Court justices or legislation.

On Monday, Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., objected to Reid’s request for unanimous approval of 76 nominees, including Janet Yellen, Obama’s choice to head the Federal Reserve. Also on the list are Jeh Johnson, Obama’s choice for Homeland Security secretary, and Deborah Lee James, for secretary of the Air Force. Most of the nominations, though, are for middle- or lower-level posts like ambassadors and federal judges.

On Tuesday, Republicans delayed a committee vote on the nomination of John Koskinen, Obama’s choice to head the Internal Revenue Service.

Reid had set in motion the votes for 11 of the nominees, most of them non-controversial. Late Wednesday, he asked for unanimous consent to waive some of the required debate time and begin voting at 9 a.m. EST Thursday morning. Republicans objected, and an all-night talkathon began. If Republicans refuse to give up their allotted debate time, the Senate could be in session continuously into Saturday – or longer.

“If we have to work through Christmas, we’re going to do that,” Reid warned from the Senate floor.

“The Republicans are wanting to waste more of this body’s time, this country’s time,” he added. Senate aides carted in Listerine, fruit, chocolate and mints for what appeared to be a long night ahead. “We are here ... looking at each other, doing basically nothing, as we have done for vast amounts of time, because of the Republicans’ obstructionism.”

“This isn’t about obstructionism,” fired back Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla. “You limited our rights.”

Associated Press writer Henry C. Jackson contributed to this report.

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