Senate on the hunt for holiday-saving accord

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) offered a deal on Tuesday that would keep the upper chamber from working over the holidays.

Leaders of both parties having been prodding each other over the Senate's remaining workload, which includes a final vote on the budget deal, voting on a defense authorization bill and voting on several of President Obama's nominees.

Reid told reporters he would be “happy to take a look” at some sort of deal that allowed the Senate to vote on some pending nominations while agreeing to take up the rest of them early next year — thus allowing senators to head home in time for Christmas.

Under Senate rules, any pending nominees technically expire at the end of the year and are sent back to the administration. However, senators can agree to waive that rule, allowing the upper chamber to quickly take them back up when they return in January. If Republicans agree to carry over some nominees, Reid indicated he would be willing to trim the pre-holiday workload.

Reid said he heard Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) offer such an idea on the news.

However, Republicans made clear they were still furious about the recent change to Senate rules, suggesting a pre-holiday accord could be difficult to pin down.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) blamed Reid for the “tragedy” that had become the Senate.

“The Senate is being run into the ground by basically one person,” he said. “I hope one of the majority leader’s New Year’s resolutions is being able to operate the Senate in quite a different manner.”

Reid, meanwhile, said if Senate work drags into the holiday, Republicans will have no one to blame but themselves.

“We could complete all our work by Thursday. It would be very easy to do, but we need some cooperation,” he said. “How long we’re here is entirely up to Republicans.”

Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), the third-ranking Republican in the Senate, said GOP members would be willing to strike a deal with Reid, but are not willing to rubber-stamp a large number of nominees just to get out of town. Reid identified 11 nominees he would like to confirm on Monday, including new heads of the Federal Reserve and IRS. Republicans also are angry about their inability to offer amendments to the budget and defense bills being considered this week.

“If [Reid] wants to reach agreement on something that’s reasonable, then I think Republicans would be willing to work with him,” Thune said. “But right now he’s just being completely unreasonable.”

Republicans have given no indication they are prepared to waive debate time on either the budget or a defense authorization bill, meaning the earliest the Senate could begin work on nominees would be Thursday.

If Republicans, still bristling from a controversial rules change that allows Democrats to confirm nominees by themselves, decide to drag out the process, Reid said he is prepared to keep the Senate working right into the holiday.

“We have a lot to do before Christmas, but we can get it done. We just need a little bit of cooperation,” he said. “If not, we’re going to face another long series of votes that will bring us to the weekend and at least the first part of next week.”

The Senate held two all-night sessions last week, as Republicans dragged out the consideration of two nominees to protest the rule change.

Reid wants to confirm several nominees before the break, including Janet Yellen for the Federal Reserve, John Koskinen for the IRS, several judges and a top deputy at the Department of Homeland Security.

After clearing a key procedural vote, the Senate is poised to pass a two-year budget agreement on Wednesday, and plans to vote on the defense bill Thursday. With those legislative items dealt with, the chamber’s attention will turn to nominations.

A key wrinkle emerged Tuesday from Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.). A noted Fed critic, Paul said he was prepared to drag out the debate on Yellen’s nomination until the Senate agreed to hold a vote on his legislation to fully audit the central bank. The House passed a similar bill in 2012, but Reid did not bring up a Senate version for a vote.

Paul could force the Senate to exhaust 30 hours of debate before voting to confirm Yellen. 

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