Reid juggles hectic final week agenda

The Senate’s last few days of action before its summer break is shaping up to be a frenzied week of challenges for Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).

From cash-for-clunkers to the Supreme Court nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to a bill that would benefit his home state, Reid is pushing an agenda that will attempt to beat the clock, resist Republican slow-down attempts and appease several unhappy members of his party.

ADVERTISEMENT
The $2 billion cash infusion granted Friday by the House to the overwhelmed cash-for-clunkers program must be accepted by the Senate this week without amendments — or it won’t be signed into law until September.

The House has adjourned for its summer recess, and some Senate lawmakers want to change the bill, which will likely force Reid into a days-long cloture process.

The Obama administration is applying pressure on the Senate to pass the House bill. White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Monday that unless the program gets additional funding soon, “it’s unlikely that we’ll make it to the weekend with a program that can continue.”

Meanwhile, Republicans will be pushing for several days of floor debate on the Sotomayor nomination, raising concerns about her judicial record.

Sotomayor will likely attract between 65 and 75 votes later this week, becoming the first Hispanic to serve on the high court.

Reid, who is facing reelection next year, is hoping to return to Nevada this summer with a travel-promotion bill that will boost his state’s economy. Reid tried to move the legislation earlier this year, but it fell short in a floor vote.

Amid all this activity, the Senate is also aiming to pass an agricultural-spending bill.

Reid expressed optimism on Monday — and delivered a warning shot to senators who are looking to leave town on Thursday.

“We can get to all of this,” Reid told The Hill on Monday. “But we may not finish on Thursday night like some people want to.”

Senior Democratic aides know they’re in for a challenge, using words like “difficult” and “aggressive” to describe this week’s agenda. But they say it can get done, even with minimal cooperation from the GOP and the potential of a Friday or Saturday vote.

Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) said his party will push a go-slow approach on cash-for-clunkers so that the program’s solvency and effectiveness can be examined. Without knowing how many claims are still in the pipeline, Kyl suggested a similar mistake could be made again.

“We need to have a time-out to see how much money was spent,” Kyl said. “Before you authorize more money, wouldn’t you like to know how much you’ve spent and how it took to spend it, and what kind of things you might want to do to modify it?”

Two senior GOP aides said Republicans will likely object to rushing any more money for the program, as might several Democrats.

ADVERTISEMENT
“Reid’s in a tough spot on this one,” said one aide. “This will not be a quick up-or-down vote.”

The GOP staffers pointed to Democrats like Dianne Feinstein of California, Claire McCaskill of Missouri and Mark Warner of Virginia, who in recent days have all expressed skepticism about the program. However, Feinstein and GOP Sen. Susan Collins (Maine) indicated on Monday evening they will support the measure. Warner wants the program to have higher mileage requirements while McCaskill has sounded skeptical about how it will be funded.

But other Democrats strike a common refrain: The sudden demand on the cash-for-clunkers program proves it is working.

“The president’s for it. I’m for it. It’s just a very unusual kind of government program that people have a hard time adjusting to,” said Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.). “But it’s doing good.”

Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) tied the cash-for-clunkers program to healthcare in a floor speech Monday, saying the program’s sudden need for cash proves “the administration’s tendency to miss the mark on economic estimates.”

“There’s a pattern here, a pattern that amounts to an argument — and a very strong argument at that: When the administration comes bearing estimates, it’s not a bad idea to look for a second opinion. All the more so if they say they’re in a hurry,” McConnell said.

In an unexpected move, Reid on Monday raised the issue of right-wing attacks against President Barack Obama’s citizenship as an example of Republican attempts to derail the Democratic agenda. In his floor speech, Reid referred to it as “an artificial controversy.

He added the shadowy attack on Obama “ignores the undeniable and proven fact that President Obama was born in the United States.”

“We can’t blame people for wondering why, with an issue as important as healthcare now before us, bipartisan consensus sometimes seem so elusive,” Reid said. “I say to them, this extreme brand of strategy and the extreme tactics that come with it are what we have to contend with.”