By Alexander Bolton - 09/16/10 09:23 PM EDT
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) does not plan to finish the defense authorization bill until after the election, freeing Democrats to debate taxes before Nov. 2.
Reid has told colleagues he plans to take up the authorization bill and consider an amendment to add the DREAM Act, which allows certain children of illegal immigrants who come to the U.S. before the age of 16 a path to citizenship.
But he said Thursday it would be difficult to address other GOP objections in the three weeks of legislative work time left before the election.
“I am going to work with Senate Republicans on a process that would permit the Senate to consider these matters and complete the bill as soon as possible, which likely will be after the recess,” Reid said on the Senate floor.
Reid has also planned debate on a permanent extension of the middle-class tax cuts passed under President George W. Bush. The chamber must also approve a stop-gap spending measure to keep the government funded after the fiscal year ends on Sept. 30.
Given the slow pace of the Senate, it’s unlikely lawmakers can finish work on the defense authorization, tax cuts and the government funding measure. So pushing completion of the defense bill until December will free up valuable time.
The revelation drew immediate condemnation from Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), the ranking Republican on the Armed Services Committee.
McCain called Reid’s decision an “unusual departure from anything I’ve seen here in the Senate.”
“We will take up certain amendments that are on his agenda and then in a lame-duck session we might consider other amendments,” he said.
McCain said the Democratic leader wants to hold political votes that are important to his party’s base but have little to do with national security.
“And then other amendments of importance, which are relevant, which those of us on this side of the aisle have, that are important, maybe we would take up under certain circumstances in a lame duck,” McCain said.
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) likewise accused Reid of using the defense bill for political purposes.
“This year, Democrats would rather use this bill to manufacture controversy,” McConnell said in a floor speech Thursday.
“Worse still, in their determination to meet their own campaign promises ahead of the upcoming election, Democrats have decided to put their own political interests ahead of the collective judgment of our military service chiefs, who are still in the midst of a study about whether ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ can be repealed without hurting combat readiness,” he said.
McCain said Reid would also likely hold a vote on an amendment banning the use of secret holds in the Senate.
A Senate Democratic leadership aide said the “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy and the DREAM Act both relate to defense and national security.
“The DREAM Act will help allow young people to join the military and the ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ provision is related to the military, as well,” said the Democratic aide.
“It’s important that people who want to serve our country are afforded that opportunity to serve,” the aide added in reference to the DREAM Act.
The legislation would allow the children of illegal immigrants to obtain green cards if they come to the U.S. before turning 16, live here for five consecutive years and graduate from high school or serve in the military.
The Democratic aide said it is not yet certain if a vote on secret holds will be held before the election or during the lame-duck session.