On Thursday night, Senate Republicans killed must-pass legislation to fund the government, and forced Democrats to accept GOP spending demands to avert a federal shutdown. The development infuriated Democratic members and led to unusually angry, churlish exchanges on the Senate floor. But as a consolation prize for defeated Democrats, they’ll have a real shot at finally repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell on Sunday evening.
After long deliberations with Republican principals Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced on the Senate floor that nine GOP members had reneged on their pledges to vote for the omnibus spending bill, which reflected months of bipartisan negotiations, and included earmarks benefiting both parties.
That left Reid several votes shy of the 60 he’d need to overcome a filibuster and essentially vaporized a year’s worth of work by the Appropriations Committee.
Democrats on the floor — including Appropriations Chairman Daniel Inouye — were visibly wounded by the development, and were unable to contain their anger after Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell rubbed in the salt. “There is only one reason cloture is not being filed,” McConnell said. “They don’t have the votes. And the reason he doesn’t have the votes is because members on [the Republican] side of the aisle increasingly felt concerned about the way we do business.”
Durbin barked under his breath at McConnell, but ultimately vented his frustrations through Reid. “I would like to ask the Majority Leader, does he recall the time when I returned from the Appropriations Committee and said that Senator McConnell had come to the committee and said that he was going to establish the maximum amount that he would vote for in all the appropriations bill…$1.108 trillion?” said Durbin in a veiled accusation of hypocrisy. “And I said to the Majority Leader, I think ultimately that’s what we’re going to be voting for is Senator McConnell’s number?”
Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) weighed in. “We had to cut the money to meet the [Republican] level…and that’s what we have before us and that’s what we’re being told, after a year’s worth of work, that somehow we don’t have the capability of knowing what’s in this bill.”
Minutes later, in one of the most chortling colloquies of the 111th Congress, Sens. John McCain (R-AZ) and Mark Kirk (R-IL) gloated over the defeat of the spending bill.
Kirk, the most junior member of the Senate asked, “Did we just win?”
McCain responded, “I think there’s very little doubt that the Majority Leader of the United States Senate would not have taken the action he just took if we didn’t have 41 votes to stop this monstrosity.”
Kirk continued, “so for economic conservatives, a 1,924-page bill just died?
“A 1,924-page bill just died,” McCain responded laughing.
Reid and McConnell are now negotiating the terms of a short-term spending bill that can pass unanimously, punting the issue of federal funding into next year when the Republican House will likely demand significant spending cuts.
The upshot for Democrats is this: After the omnibus was laid to rest, Reid announced that the Senate will move to break filibusters on two key progressive priorities: the DREAM Act and DADT repeal. The stacked cloture motions imply that Democrats expect one — likely the DREAM Act — to fail. But, according to a Reid aide, if the filibuster is broken, the final vote on DADT repeal will come Sunday night.
Running parallel to all this is START, which the Senate will continue debating tomorrow and again next week.
Brian Beutler is TPM's senior congressional reporter. Since 2009, he's led coverage of health care reform, Wall Street reform, taxes, the GOP budget, the government shutdown fight, and the debt limit fight. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.