Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellSenate passes stopgap funding bill, averting shutdown Senate advances funding measure, avoiding shutdown President Obama should curb mass incarceration with clemency MORE (Ky.) and Democratic Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) are both looking for a deal at the end of the 113th Congress.
The two party leaders, who have dueled for nearly a decade with Reid in the majority and McConnell in the minority, are about to flip positions.
McConnell wants to clear the agenda of several “must-pass” bills so the new Senate Republican majority can start 2015 with a clean slate.
He’s ready to work with Reid to pass bills that have been stalled for months — as long as Democrats don’t try to load up the December calendar with partisan legislation or controversial nominations.
Reid, with just a few weeks left in the majority, has priorities of his own. After a depressing election result, he wants to pass legislation to keep the government open; provide new funds for the fights against Ebola and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS); and confirm as many of President Obama’s nominees as possible.
Both sides believe the veteran lawmakers can reach a deal.
A senior Democratic aide said brokering a deal with McConnell on what will pass in the lame-duck period is possible if the GOP leader agrees to move a bloc of nominees and pass an omnibus spending bill despite the objections of conservatives.
“It depends, No. 1, on their ability to keep their hard right in line so we can get an omnibus done. If they can do that, that will help. And we need some kind of agreement that processes a lot of the nominees without dragging them out,” the aide said of the GOP leadership.
Republicans believe Reid has incentive to compromise with them instead of attempting to wear them down with a marathon lame-duck session because senators who just lost reelection, such as Sens. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) and Kay Hagan (D-N.C.), won’t want to hang around the Capitol while still feeling the sting of defeat.
A senior Republican aide said it’s likely Reid and McConnell will craft an agreement to move a bloc of noncontroversial nominees, as usually happens at the end of every Congress. But any Democratic bundlers or other political patrons that Obama wants to reward will get blocked, the aide warned.
“It’s in his interest to stick to the stuff that needs to get done and not fool around with partisan extraneous matters,” said a senior GOP aide in reference to Reid. “If he sticks to the essentials, everybody wants to do the essentials.”
McConnell faces some wild cards in Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Mike Lee (R-Utah), who argue outgoing senators should not finish a large chunk of their legislative work now that they are no longer accountable to voters. They say passing non-emergency bills before newly elected lawmakers have a chance to take their seats subverts the democratic process.
“Why should we do anything on our side?” said one senior GOP aide, reflecting the Tea Party view. “Why should we agree to anything in the lame-duck? We should turn off the lights, head out the door and come back when we have a bigger majority.”
McConnell is signaling to colleagues that he wants to pass legislation to keep the government funded and to extend a variety of expired tax provisions.
He also wants to extend authority for the administration to train and equip Syrian rebels in the ISIS fight, extend the Internet tax moratorium, renew the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act and pass a satellite TV bill.
Whether Reid and McConnell have a smooth or difficult lame-duck session may depend on their ability to grease the skids for the annual Defense Department authorization bill, which could trigger a messy floor debate filled with controversial amendments on a host of policies.
Lawmakers could offer amendments authorizing military strikes against ISIS, tightening sanctions against Iran or addressing the transfer of prisoners from Guantanamo Bay.
Republicans say they would like to pass the defense bill in December, but argue it could also wait until January.
“It should get done but it doesn’t have to get done. If it happens in January, it’s not the end of the world,” said a GOP aide.
The funding measure and tax bills are bigger priorities to do now, GOP aides say.
Republicans want to prevent any talk of a shutdown by funding the government through next September. And failure to pass the tax extenders package or the extension of the Internet tax moratorium would put a higher tax burden on millions of Americans, they argue.
A Democratic aide conceded that the Defense authorization “has slipped” beyond New Year’s Day in the past but added, “it should get done.”
Some Senate aides suggested Tuesday that Republicans could get a vote on an amendment to the defense bill authorizing the Keystone XL pipeline, a longtime Republican priority. This could give McConnell more incentive to let Reid move the defense measure next month.