Packed schedule to test bipartisanship

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Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) wants to pass the budget deal and the Defense authorization bill and confirm a new secretary of Homeland Security ... all by Friday.

A Senate Democratic leadership aide said last week that Reid also wants to move another batch of nominees, including Janet Yellen, who would become the first women to head the Federal Reserve.

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Reid’s ambitious schedule, however, could hit a wall if Republicans are still angry about his use of the so-called "nuclear option" last month. The controversial tactic stripped the GOP of power to filibuster executive and judicial branch nominees.

Republicans refused to yield back procedural time on a group of nominees Reid brought to the floor last week, forcing the Democratic leader to schedule two all-night sessions in a row to burn off the clock.

Simmering GOP resentment could threaten the budget agreement negotiated by Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), which will come up for a vote Tuesday.

Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said Sunday the budget deal still doesn’t have the votes to pass. He anticipates as many as three Democratic defections.

“The struggle is still on in the United States Senate; we will need about eight Republicans to come our way,” he told CBS’s Bob Schieffer.

The budget deal needs 60 votes to overcome a GOP filibuster, and so far only Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) have said they will vote for it.

Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine), Jeff Flake (R), McCain’s home-state colleague, and Richard Burr (R-N.C.) said they will vote to end debate.

The three top Senate Republican leaders — Sens. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), John Cornyn (R-Texas) and John Thune (R-S.D.) — have signaled their opposition to the deal.

Durbin said House Republican leaders have begun conversations with GOP senators in an effort to persuade them. The House passed it overwhelmingly, 332 to 94.

Reid said last week he hopes to wrap up the budget deal quickly and move to a vote on the Defense authorization Wednesday. On Sunday, he filed motions to end debate on both measures.

Congress has passed the Defense authorization in each of the past 51 years. Reid set up the measure in such a way to prevent amendments, which means Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and other proponents of handing military prosecutors power to investigate sexual assaults will have to wait until next year to push their legislation.

Reid wants to move another batch of nominees, including Yellen and possibly John Koskinen, President Obama’s choice to head the IRS. The Senate Finance Committee approved Koskinen’s nomination Friday.

A Democratic aide said Koskinen’s nomination could “possibly” reach the floor this week.

Moving those nominees as well as passing the budget deal and the Defense authorization in one week is a challenging task for a chamber that has moved at a glacial pace for most of the year.

While McCain has pledged to vote for the budget deal, he said Reid’s use of the nuclear option badly damaged bipartisan relations.

“The ill will that has been inflicted by that action is incalculable,” he told reporters.

Republicans could derail Reid’s tight schedule by refusing to yield back procedural time after the Senate votes to end debate on the budget and defense bills.

Reid has threatened to keep the Senate in session as long as necessary to finish its work.

“If it takes us working right through Christmas, we will work right through Christmas,” he said Wednesday.

The Senate will not take action on a short-term extension of farming law passed by the House last week.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has assured Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), the chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, that dairy prices will not spike next month, despite warnings to the contrary.

“We won’t be passing an extension,” Stabenow told reporters.

The Senate will vote at 5:30 p.m. on Monday to confirm Anne Patterson, Obama’s pick to serve as assistant secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs. It will then vote to end debate on the nomination of Jeh Johnson, Obama’s choice to replace Janet Napolitano as secretary of Homeland Security. If 60 senators vote to cut off a filibuster of Johnson, the Senate will then move to confirm him immediately on Monday evening. 

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