Last week, when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) attempted to end debate on the $410 billion 2009 omnibus appropriations bill, he came “one vote short.” Tonight, he’ll try again. While several Republicans whom Reid had expected to side with him had defected, one vote against senator’s lack of support for ending debate was surprising: Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ).
Menendez voted signaled his intention to vote against ending debate “in protest of a little-noticed Cuba provision that would ease U.S. rules on travel and imports to the communist-led island.” While Menendez claimed that including the Cuba provision in the omnibus was controversial, a majority of even Cuban Americans in Florida now support easing the embargo on Cuba. The effect of Menendez’s vote to keep debate open on the bill has been to increase the amount of time that Republicans have had to try to water down the legislation and delay work on other critical legislation. Still, Reid is likely to pass the legislation today with the Cuba provision intact.
In casting his protest vote, Menendez joined the ranks of a growing number of moderate Democrats who are withholding critical support for legislation in an attempt to force their Democratic colleagues into making narrow and often unpopular changes to important pieces of legislation. Other members include:
— Sen. Kent Conrad (D-ND): Opposed to “stopping direct payments to farms with annual sales of more than $500,000” despite the fact that ending such payments are projected to save “$10 billion over 10 years” and the program — which began in 1996 — was originally “dubbed ‘transitional’ and [was] supposed to decline over seven years.”
— Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE): Along with Menendez, Nelson opposed the Cuba provision in the omnibus. He also opposes the Employee Free Choice Act. Additionally, Nelson opposes a provision in Obama’s 2010 budget proposal that would overhaul the federal student aid program to ensure that Pell grants increase each year to keep pace with college tuition increases. Nelson opposes the measure, in short, because it could possibly harm a private student lending firm that operates in his state.
— Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-AR): Lincoln is “[t]rying to have it both ways” on the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) by refusing to say whether she’ll support the measure. As Arkansas News columnist John Brummett explained recently, Lincoln has an upcoming fundraiser which is expected to be heavily attended by the business community who appreciate her “generally pro-business voting record.” At the same time, however, Vice President Joe Biden — who supports EFCA — will headline at her fundraiser. As such and at the expense of the EFCA campaign, Lincoln appears to be remaining intentionally vague on EFCA in order to more easily fill her campaign coffers.
These Senators are enhancing the Republicans’ ability to “delay and obstruct,” with little to no positive benefits. Indeed, the fact that Reid will likely pass the omnibus package today with the Cuba provision intact should demonstrate that the Menendez delay tactic is not productive.
ThinkProgress originally reported that Menendez voted against a cloture motion offered by Reid last Thursday. Menendez’s office contacted us and explained that Menendez never actually voted on the cloture motion. In reality, as the Washington Post reported today, Menendez simply indicated on Thursday that he would not support a cloture motion should a vote have taken place. Today, Menendez announced his intention to support the bill. We regret the error.