Reid plots final days in power

 

Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidBill O'Reilly: Politics helped kill Kate Steinle, Zarate just pulled the trigger Tax reform is nightmare Déjà vu for Puerto Rico Ex-Obama and Reid staffers: McConnell would pretend to be busy to avoid meeting with Obama MORE (D-Nev.) hopes to confirm 50 of President Obama’s nominees and move an omnibus spending bill in a last hurrah before Democrats give up power in the Senate.

The nominees are part of a packed lame-duck schedule that Reid is furiously planning and that will be a topic at Friday’s White House lunch meeting between Obama and congressional leaders.

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Reid also wants to move a package of expiring tax provisions, the annual Defense Department authorization bill and an extension of a tax moratorium on Internet purchases in the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

That will be a challenge not only because of the tight schedule, but because of expected clashes between Democrats over what should be prioritized before Minority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellGOP strategist donates to Alabama Democrat McConnell names Senate GOP tax conferees Brent Budowsky: A plea to Alabama voters MORE (R-Ky.) takes over the Senate’s agenda in January.

For example, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), who is about to lose his chairmanship, is pushing for consideration of a bill reforming the National Security Agency despite opposition from other Democrats.

One of the most pressing needs from the administration’s point of view is getting the Senate to confirm as many as 38 State Department nominees, but Reid will have to be judicious given the priorities fighting for precious floor time in the Senate.

Senate Democrats last year killed the Senate filibuster for most nominees, but it still takes up hours of floor time to move a nominee if there is a single objection.

Advocacy groups are pressing the leader to move judicial nominees as quickly as he can, knowing it will be much harder to move them when McConnell takes over.

“There are 16 [district court] nominees on the floor, and there are eight more district court nominees in committee, and the expectation is that all of them can and should be confirmed before the end of the year,” said Michelle Schwartz, director of justice programs at the Alliance for Justice.

There are a total of 24 judicial nominees on the executive calendar. Although there are seven circuit court vacancies, none of the pending nominees are for those seats.

Another wild card is that Obama is expected to nominate a candidate to replace Attorney General Eric Holder soon. This could trigger another time consuming fight, particularly if the president picks a controversial nominee. 

Reid’s top lame-duck priority is to move a new bill to fund the government.

A senior Democratic aide said the Senate Appropriations Committee fully expects to pass an omnibus spending package that would run the government through September 2015 and asserted there is no talk of moving a short-term funding measure that would let the new Senate GOP majority renegotiate spending levels early next years.

“There’s no talk whatsoever about a short-term CR [continuing resolution],” the aide said in reference to a continuing resolution.

The House, however, will also have a say in whether Congress moves an omnibus spending package, a yearlong stopgap funding measure or a short-term continuing resolution.

It’s possible that Republicans will agree to a longer-term spending bill that would stick to the spending caps included in the two-year budget deal worked out by Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) after the government shutdown.

That would put off a new fight over spending until the 2016 fiscal year, which begins on Oct. 1.

House Republicans are debating internally over what their best strategy is.

“We’ll be talking with members all next week about what can and should get done — or not — in the lame duck,” said Michael Steel, spokesman for Speaker John Boehner (Ohio).

McConnell has signaled to GOP colleagues that he wants to start his reign as majority leader in 2015 with a clean slate.

He wants to avoid a messy fight over spending levels at the beginning of next year, which could derail one of his top priorities, passing a budget.

But he faces internal challenges as well.

Conservative Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Mike Lee (R-Utah), two Tea Party favorites, have vowed to object to any legislation that could be postponed until next year.

“By any measure, deliberately planning to reconvene the Senate in a lame-duck session to address major new legislation would subvert the will of the American people, lessen accountability, and do lasting damage to the dignity and integrity of this body’s proceedings,” they wrote in a letter to Reid.