Senate postpones Libya authorization bill to focus on debt

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) canceled a vote on legislation authorizing U.S. military action in Libya after facing pressure from GOP lawmakers, who warned they would vote the measure down in order to focus on budget matters.

Reid canceled the vote just hours before it was to begin, noting he had reached an agreement with the Republican leadership that would allow the chamber to work on issues related to the debt crisis.

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“We have agreed that the most important thing to focus on this week is the budget, so we will work on the ‘Sense of [the] Senate’ resolution and perhaps a Republican alternative as well,” he said.

Several Republicans complained about the Libya vote, noting Senate Democrats cited the debt crisis as the reason for canceling this week’s scheduled Independence Day holiday. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), for example, said he did not think it was worthwhile for the Senate to cancel its break if it did not deal with the nation’s financial crisis.

The discontent came to a head on Tuesday morning when Republican senators, led by Bob Corker (Tenn.) and Roger Wicker (Miss.), took to the floor to express their opposition to a vote on the measure.

“I want to announce at this point that I will be voting 'no' this afternoon on the motion to invoke cloture on the motion to proceed to a debate on Libya,” Wicker said.

“If we had a serious effort to talk about the national debt in this week of recess that has been canceled, we would be convening the Budget Committee today and asking them to report a budget on the floor for the first time in almost 800 days,” he added, noting that no such plans were scheduled.

Corker added that while Libya was an important issue, it was “totally irrelevant” to the much larger issue of reaching some agreement on the debt ceiling.

“The issue of the day is our debt ceiling,” Corker said. “I urge my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to vote 'no' this evening for cloture. Let’s not take up an issue that will have no effect on — that has nothing to do with the debt ceiling, and let’s move to those kinds of issues that will.”

With the Republicans objecting, the measure would have likely failed if it came to the floor for the 5 p.m. vote Reid scheduled. It would have needed 60 votes to win cloture and move forward in the legislative process.

At a press conference that came on the heels of Reid’s announcement, Republicans claimed two victories. Aside from forcing Reid to take the unusual step of keeping the Senate in for the holiday, they said they managed to kill the Libya resolution.

“The Senate is basically fiddling while America goes bankrupt,” said Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.). “I stood up … and said, this has got to stop. Sen. Reid brought up the Libya resolution and I objected. As important as that is, it does not deal with the fact that we are bankrupting this nation.”

Last week Johnson objected when Reid tried to bring the vote to the floor by unanimous consent, which then required the Democratic leader to try to bring it to the floor by a cloture vote. 

“Momentum just continued to build — it began last week — and I am glad Sen. Reid has pulled the Libya vote,” said Corker, who noted that Republicans remain united in their resolve to force the Senate to stick to financial matters.

But speaking on the Senate floor on Tuesday morning, Reid pointed to House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (Va.) and Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), two lawmakers who have bowed out of debt-limit negotiations, and said Republicans were the ones abdicating their duties. 

Cantor left the deficit talks being spearheaded by Vice President Biden, and Coburn left the Gang of Six talks on the same issue.

“This week we will debate a solution to this crisis whether the Republicans like it or not,” Reid said.

Following the announcement, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) who was a co-sponsor of the Libya legislation along with Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), expressed disappointment that the vote was canceled, but said he understood his colleagues’ wish to focus on the budget. 

“The Senate is back in session this week to address the looming debt crisis,” said McCain. “The majority of senators understandably prefer to focus on that issue this week, and therefore consideration of the resolution authorizing force in Libya has been delayed. I believe the Senate has a responsibility to debate the ongoing conflict in Libya, and it is my hope that we will address this issue as early as next week.”


—This story was posted at 3:48 p.m. and updated at 4:04 p.m. and at 7:27 p.m.