Reid, McConnell lock horns over legislative agenda in Senate

Senate leaders Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) squabbled Tuesday on the Senate floor over the legislative agenda for the upper chamber once work is complete on the pending highway bill.

Minority Leader McConnell insisted that Majority Leader Reid agree to put aside a series of time-consuming votes on 17 of President Obamas judicial nominees to turn immediately to the JOBS Act, which the House passed with overwhelming support last month. McConnell also accused Reid of seeking to generate a fight on that jobs legislation by forcing a vote on a controversial perfecting amendment that would reauthorize the U.S. Export-Import Bank, which is nearing its $100 billion loan limit.

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“It strikes me with the jobs emergency we have in this country … the thing to do is to pocket this broad bipartisan bill and try to create jobs immediately, McConnell said. The majority leader has insisted instead we are going to precipitate a fight.

Rather then try to manufacture gridlock and create the illusion of conflict where none exists, why dont we demonstrate we can kind of get something done together?

But Reid hit back, saying it would take a mere 30 minutes to dispose of his amendment. He said it was in fact Republicans who were inventing conflict by preventing the smooth operation of the Senate by blocking votes on the 17 judicial nominees, most of whom enjoy bipartisan support in their home states. 

There is nothing to fight about, Reid said when McConnell tried to call up the Republicans’ jobs bill. If we are going to have a fight, let’s make it over something worthwhile. I just said we are going to move to this bill as quickly as we can.”

The argument came to a climax when Reid said he would allow the Senate to move straight to the jobs bill in exchange for an agreement that the chamber then turn to votes on the judicial nominees.

Reflecting opposition in his caucus to allowing a rapid series of votes on the nominees, McConnell would not agree to the deal, insisting that instead the Senate ought to work on the confirmations at the same pace it has pursued so far this year.

Reid and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Pat Leahy (D-Vt.) have repeatedly pointed to the fact that Republicans’ obstructionism of the confirmation process is resulting in a significantly slower pace than that experienced under the G.W. Bush and Clinton administrations.

“President Obama is being held to a different standard,” Leahy said Tuesday. “[T]hat is wrong. You may elect him but we are going to hold him to a different standard. It is wrong.”

Reid escalated the long-brewing fight over the nominees Monday by filing cloture to force votes. The move immediately drew fire from conservatives in the upper chamber who are still upset over Obama’s recess appointments in January. 

The GOP jobs bill, which the Senate will soon take up, passed the House on Thursday afternoon, 390-23, and would ease the rules for capital formation for small companies.