Senate Dems plan a busy schedule as SCOTUS debate looms

Senate Dems plan a busy schedule as SCOTUS debate looms

Senate Democratic leaders will push an agenda topped by a banking reform bill over the seven-week work period before Memorial Day.

Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens’ retirement announcement Friday isn’t likely to derail the Democratic agenda in the upper chamber, since President Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaModerate or left of center — which is better for Democrats in 2020? Obama: Countries facing severe effects of climate change offer 'moral call to rest of the world' Democrats' self-inflicted diversity vulnerability MORE’s nominee will be sent first to the Judiciary Committee. Obama has said he will select a nominee within weeks.

That leaves Banking Committee Chairman Chris Dodd’s banking reform bill as the majority party’s top priority before lawmakers next leave town for the first week of June.

The Connecticut Democrat is still negotiating with Sen. Richard Shelby (Ala.), the committee’s ranking Republican, on the final draft of the bill.

In March, Dodd said the bill would likely emerge a week or two after recess and that he hoped for final passage before the summer, when election-year politics dooms deal-making.

“What I'm facing mostly is the 101st senator, and that is the clock, particularly in an election year," he said. “And that 101st senator, that clock, becomes a rather demanding member. Because as time moves on, you just limit the possibility of getting anything done, particularly a bill of this magnitude and complexity.”

Democrats have felt momentum on financial regulatory reform ever since the healthcare bill was signed into law. Republicans did not offer amendments against the bill in Dodd’s committee markup, and the GOP has acknowledged the issue is a tough one for them given Wall Street’s unpopularity with voters.

Dodd told reporters when he introduced his bill that the nature of the election year means that the legislation must get passed before summer. Since Dodd’s bill will have to be reconciled with House legislation, it will be important for the Senate to complete its work by the Memorial Day recess.

Republican Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellSherrod Brown backs new North American trade deal: 'This will be the first trade agreement I've ever voted for' McConnell: Bevin pardons 'completely inappropriate' House panel to hold hearing, vote on Trump's new NAFTA proposal MORE (R-Ky.) told The Hill last month his members “aren’t necessarily opposed” to the banking bill, and one senior GOP aide said it is heartening that Dodd and Shelby are still talking.

“It could be an indicator that the Democrats are interested in an accomplishment rather than just an opportunity to score political points,” the aide said.

The work period is likely to start with some acrimony over legislation to extend unemployment benefits.

Republicans are blocking an extension unless the cost of the benefits are paid for with spending cuts to other programs, and Sen. Tom CoburnThomas (Tom) Allen CoburnThe Hill's Morning Report — Presented by PhRMA — Worries grow about political violence as midterms approach President Trump’s war on federal waste American patients face too many hurdles in regard to health-care access MORE (R-Okla.) told The Hill last week he will block any spending bill that is similarly unfunded.

Democrats contend the benefits are emergency spending and do not have to be offset.

A procedural vote is scheduled Monday evening to move to the bill, but a final vote might not come until the end of the week unless a deal is reached.

Both parties are already under pressure to pass the extension, since benefits expire for 200,000 unemployed people each week that action isn’t taken. Republicans say the benefits would be provided retroactively and are only being delayed, not denied.

Besides Dodd’s banking reform bill, a senior Democratic aide said the party also plans to pursue a job-growth bill focused on benefits for small businesses, as well as tax-extenders legislation.

But it is the banking bill that will generate the most friction in the coming weeks.

Democrats need at least one Republican to vote to move the bill forward since they only control 59 seats, one shy of the 60 necessary to win procedural motions.

Republicans are therefore wary that Democratic leaders will use the occasion to slip pet priorities into the bill and dare the GOP to oppose the overall package.

A separate senior Democratic aide close to the bill’s drafting process said Dodd has publicly stated that he would keep the bill clean and narrowly focused.

“Everybody knows Dodd has bent over backwards to make this a bipartisan bill, and it’s Republicans who have stood in the way,” the aide said. “They’re trying to make this into a partisan fight, and nobody else is.”