New legislation to keep the government funded past March 27 hit a snag Tuesday afternoon when Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) placed a hold on beginning debate, essentially threatening to filibuster the bill. It appears unlikely to sink the bipartisan legislation, though.
“He wants to read the bill,” Coburn spokesman John Hart told TPM.
On the Senate floor, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) backed up Coburn’s call to withhold support for beginning debate on the legislation. “We just need a little more time to get through the entire bill,” McCain said.
“I just learned … that, who else, Coburn, won’t let us move with the bill,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) told reporters Tuesday. “So unless something happens in that regard, we’re going to have to use the new rules we have where [Mitch] McConnell and I can move forward ourselves. Or I’m going to have to file cloture.”
The continuing resolution, negotiated by Sens. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) and Richard Shelby (R-AL), seeks to avoid a confrontation with the House and keep the government funded while mitigating the worst impacts of the sequester — automatic spending cuts — on key priorities.
The upshot of the hold is it will slow down passage of the bill. Reid suggested he won’t ignore the hold and file for cloture anyway. His option would be to reach a deal with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to bypass the hold and advance the bill.
“The vast majority of stuff in this bill came from the House of Representatives,” a frustrated Reid said on the floor, accusing Coburn of repeatedly “berating the leaders of the Senate” with holds. “We have to complete the bill before we leave here for Easter vacation.”
Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) insisted that the chamber debate the legislation to move forward with the process while Coburn and McCain familiarize themselves with it.
McCain said he understands that the clock is ticking and suggested that he and Coburn might drop their objection “within a couple of hours.”
“I think we are nearly through the examination of the bill,” he said. “I do not intend to impede the progress of the Senate on this legislation.”
A leadership aide said Senate Democrats are working to secure unanimous consent to begin debating the stopgap legislation, and “still might secure one today.”
Sahil Kapur is a congressional reporter for TPM. He previously covered politics and public policy for numerous publications including The Guardian and The Huffington Post. He can be reached at sahil [at] talkingpointsmemo.com.