During a Meet the Press appearance on Sunday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) argued that the Senate would not have enough time to consider the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) before it adjourns later this month, and he may be right if Majority Leader Harry Reid sticks to the schedule he outlined on Saturday. Appearing on the floor of the Senate, Reid announced he would file cloture Monday for the DREAM Act, the 911 firefighters health bill, a collective-bargaining measure for firefighters and a living adjustment payment for seniors with the hopes of voting on cloture by Wednesday. The Senate will hold an impeachment trial for a federal judge on Tuesday.
“We’re also trying to figure out a time to move forward on the defense authorization bill,” Reid explained. “The issue on that, Madam President, is what we do with amendments and without belaboring the point here, I would be happy to consider doing a number of amendments, if we have time agreements on those amendments. But just to have an open process, at this stage, I don’t see how we can do that.”
The problem, as Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) explained last week, is that Reid is unlikely to attract Republican votes without a fair debate process and with just 58 Democratic votes (if one counts the very unlikely support of Sen. Mark Pryor) Reid needs at least two (probably three) Republicans to proceed to the bill. Sen. Scott Brown (R-MA) didn’t put any overt conditions to voting for repeal when he announced his support on Friday but Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) premised their yes votes on extending the tax cuts and an open amendment process. Sen. Dick Lugar (R-IN), moreover, who has remained somewhat coy about his intentions said through a spokesperson on Friday that “Congress needs to study this more before taking action” and said there isn’t enough time to accomplish the needed discussions during as the legislative session wanes.”
Of course, if the question is one of timing, then Reid can always extend the session past the target adjourn date of December 17th and hold the Senate open every day until Republicans are satisfied with the debate process. The message should be: if you can’t compromise on a fair and reasonable time frame and insist on a completely open debate structure, then that’s what we’ll have 24 hours a day until the very day the new Congress is sworn in. If Republicans wish to obstruct or play games with a military priority — which besides DADT repeal also includes the military’s annual pay raise, recruiting and enlistment bonuses, provisions extending TRICARE to dependent children of troops, increases in hostile fire and imminent danger pay — then they do so at their own peril.
But there are some signs that Republicans would welcome a longer debate. Lugar spokesperson Mark Helmke told me that the Senator would be willing to stay past Christmas to have enough time to debate the issue. Asked if he would vote for cloture if Reid extended the session and provided more time for debate, Helmke said Lugar is “leaning that way.”
Lieberman also supports keeping the Senate in session to finish DADT:
“Sen. Lieberman believes that there are at least 60 votes to repeal ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ this year, provided that leadership allows time for sufficient debate and amendments,” Lieberman spokeswoman Erika Masonhall said. “Wanting to go home is not an acceptable excuse for failing to pass a bill that provides essential support for our troops and veterans and failing to take action that the president, the secretary of Defense and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff have called for.”