By Alexander Bolton - 12/16/10 04:41 PM EST
Republicans will paralyze the Senate floor for 50 hours by forcing clerks to read every single paragraph of the 1,924-page, $1.1 trillion omnibus spending bill.
Senate clerks are expected to read the massive bill in rotating shifts around the clock — taking breaks to drink water and pop throat lozenges — to keep legislative business on track, according to a Democratic leadership aide.
The Senate is currently debating the New START nuclear arms reduction treaty. It is expected to take up the omnibus spending bill on a separate and parallel track later Thursday.
If Republicans follow through on their threat, legislative business couldn’t resume until late Saturday in order to give the staff enough time to read the bill aloud, according to a Democratic leadership estimate.
Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), the Senate Republican Steering Committee chairman, vowed not to back down.
“If they bring this up, they’re going to read it. It’ll take them a day or two to read it,” DeMint said on Fox News. “Again, we’re trying to run out the clock. They should not be able to pass this kind of legislation in a lame-duck Congress.”
Snow began blanketing the Capitol on Thursday and the forecast calls for more on Sunday, when the Senate is expected to be in session. It's a scenario that recalls the hectic finish to the healthcare reform debate last year.
“Well, here we go again,” said Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) on the Senate floor Thursday. “All of this is eerily familiar to anyone who remembers the healthcare debate. We’ve even got snow in the forecast — just like last year, when we voted on the healthcare bill in a blizzard.”
McConnell has offered as an alternative a one-page continuing resolution that would fund the government through Feb. 18 at current levels.
Meanwhile, Sen. Jon Kyl (Ariz.), the lead GOP negotiator on START ratification, argued the Senate should not be trying to rush the treaty and spending bill through the Senate simultaneously.
“To suggest that we can dual-track an issue as important as the funding of the government with this almost 2,000-page, $1 trillion-plus bill at the same time that we are seriously debating the START treaty is a fantasy,” Kyl told reporters Wednesday.
Kyl said Republicans want to offer amendments and “there’s no way they could adequately be considered in the time that we have.”
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.), however, rejected the possibility of delaying START until January or February.
“If you have new senators coming in, you can hear the cries right now: ‘We haven’t had time to do this, we don’t know the treaty backwards and forwards, we have to take hearings, we have to have more briefings,’” Kerry told reporters Thursday, noting that the Senate has spent a year and a half reviewing the treaty.
“The really appropriate question is not ‘Why not wait?’ It’s ‘Why delay?’” Kerry said.
Kerry said the treaty will enhance national security, noting that 150,000 American troops will be in harm’s way and arguing the Senate should do its part to protect the country in the days before Christmas.
Kerry said Democrats are ready to vote on the treaty and predicted there would be 67 votes to ratify if Republican centrists are given enough time to debate and offer amendments.
The Massachusetts Democrat said his party would move to hold a vote on the treaty in the next few days when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) determines it’s appropriate. He noted that Republicans have circulated about 15 amendments.
Kerry also rejected the prospect of shelving the omnibus to allow colleagues to focus on the START debate.
“Absolutely not,” he said. “There’s a reason the omnibus is on the floor today — because the Republicans have delayed everything."
“The irony, the hypocrisy of us sitting here with them standing up and saying 'Oh my Gosh, it’s the last minute,' ” he added. “It’s the last minute because they haven’t let us do anything. The game plan is usually to keep preventing things from happening.”
—Michael O’Brien contributed to this report.