Today, the Senate debated the Public Safety Employer-Employee Cooperation Act of 2007 (H.R. 980), a bill strengthening the collective bargaining powers of firefighters, police officers, and first responders.
At noon, the Senate quickly “devolved into a procedural mess” when Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) attempted to attach Sen. Lindsey Graham’s (R-SC) watered-down GI Bill — which is strongly backed by Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) — as an amendment. McConnell also immediately seconded his measure, but then filed cloture, “prohibiting Democrats from filing their own version of the proposal.”
This amendment is a poison pill. It not only kills the Public Safety bill, but also blocks Sen. Jim Webb’s (D-VA) more generous GI Bill from being considered. In one swift maneuver, conservatives trampled over first responders and veterans. In a fiery speech, Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA) responded on the floor:
We have seen this parliamentary gimmick that has taken place offered by the Republican leadership that is a slap in the face to every firefighter and police officer and first responder in the country. [...]
We’re saying to the firefighters of this nation and to the police officers of this nation and the first responders of the nation: Your interest, the safety and security of our communities across the nation, should be put aside in favor of some political gimmick by the Republican leader here in the United States Senate.
This morning, Politico reported that McCain and his allies were “reaching out” to Webb “in the hope of finding a compromise on a GI Bill.” It seems, however, that McCain became desperate to avoid a “potential embarrassment” and resorted to this political stunt. Unlike McCain’s bill, Webb’s has strong bipartisan support and the backing of a majority of the American public.
Why not focus on the GI bill after the first responders bill is over? Kennedy asked. “Do it Friday, Saturday, Sunday, or Monday. Maybe Sen. McCain will come back for it,” he said. “Maybe he won’t.”
McCain was not in the Senate today and questions remain whether he approved this strategy. “Maybe the leadership on the other side can tell us whether Sen. McCain approved this strategy,” added Kennedy. “Maybe you can find that out. I think the police and firefighters would like to know.”
The Senate voted 55-42 to table the McCain/Graham amendment.