Conservatives threaten to block Senate bills unrelated to debt

Conservative senators on Thursday threatened to hold up any Senate legislation that doesn’t specifically deal with reducing the nation’s debt. 

In a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), the senators complained that only three hours of debate were scheduled Wednesday before votes on dueling proposals to reduce spending.

“This debate gave only a limited (three hours) opportunity to debate what many Americans believe is the issue of our time — cutting government spending and dramatically reducing our national debt,” said the letter to Reid.

A spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said more time needs to be given in the Senate for debating the nation's debt woes. 

“Senator McConnell appreciates their focus on the most important issue facing our country right now – the out of control spending and rising national debt – and agrees that there should be sufficient floor time to debate this issue in advance of reaching our statutorily-mandated debt limit,” McConnell spokesman Robert Steurer said.

Hours were consumed on the Senate floor on Monday on debate over the Patent Reform Act, which ended up passing the Senate. Reid plans to move to a small business bill next.

The lawmakers also criticized Reid for not allowing them to offer amendments to the measures.

“This statement is clear,” said Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) in announcing the letter on the Senate floor. “This is a crisis. We need to act before we reach the debt limit. Let’s act now. Lets not move to other cat and dog bills that may be positive legislation but can certainly wait.”

The letter was also signed by Sens. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), Rand Paul (R-Ky.), Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), Mike Lee (R-Utah) and John Ensign (R-Nev.)

If Reid dedicates significant time to debating the budget crisis prior to when the government is expected to reach its debt ceiling, the senators said they would drop their objections. 

“Our objections would be withheld if the Senate agrees to dedicate significant floor time to debate this issue well in advance of the federal government reaching our statutorily mandated debt limit,” said the letter.

The Senate began a roll call vote on the the nomination of Max O. Cogburn, Jr. to be United States District Judge for the Western District of North Carolina at about 3 p.m. That is the last vote scheduled for Thursday in the Senate.

This story was updated at 6:27 p.m.