Just hours after Democrats and Republicans agreed to bargain on tax cuts, and fewer hours still after Defense Secretary Robert Gates implored Congress to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell this year, word leaked that Republicans aren’t really interested in any of it — a major repudiation of Gates’ authority.
According to a letter delivered to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid this morning, Republicans will block all debate on all legislation until the tax cut impasse is bridged and the federal government has been fully funded — even if it means days tick by and the Senate misses its opportunity to pass DADT, an extension of unemployment insurance and other Dem items.
“[W]e write to inform you that we will not agree to invoke cloture on the motion to proceed to any legislative item until the Senate has acted to fund the government and we have prevented the tax increase that is currently awaiting all American taxpayers,” the letter reads. “With little time left in this Congressional session, legislative scheduling should be focused on these critical priorities. While there are other items that might ultimately be worthy of the Senate’s attention, we cannot agree to prioritize any matters above the critical issues of funding the government and preventing a job-killing tax hike.”
It was penned by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, and signed by all 42 Republicans.
According to the AP, which first broke the news of the letter, and portrayed it as a GOP effort to block all Dem initiatives unilaterally, the START treaty would be exempted. But everything else — particularly DADT, unemployment insurance and the DREAM Act would be ensnared.
This isn’t the first time Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has used a letter (or the threat of a letter) signed by his whole caucus to stymie Democrats. During the wrangling over Wall Street Reform, Republicans used a similar tactic to delay debate on that legislation. In the end, it didn’t work, and Democrats broke the GOP filibuster.
As recently as yesterday, Republicans were on the fence about a number of issues: DADT was a big wait and see; and an unemployment extension would have to be paid for. But it now appears all of those items will have to wait until Democrats and Republicans finish all their work on tax cuts and appropriations — work which thusfar been slow-going.
You can read the entire letter here.
Late update: Here’s Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s response on the Senate floor this morning: “My Republican colleagues…know that the true effect of this letter is to prevent the Senate from acting on many important issues that have bipartisan support. With this letter, they have simply put in writing the political strategy that the Republicans pursued this entire Congress: Namely, obstruct, delay action on critical matters, and then blame the Democrats for not addressing the needs of American people. Very cynical, but very obvious. Very transparent.”
[Ed note: This post has been updated significantly since it was originally published.]
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.