So Little Time: Senate Eyes Tax Cuts, Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and Funding the Government

By Jared

Sep 15, 2010 12:24pm

ABC's Matthew Jaffe reports: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is promising action on bills his caucus may not have the appetite or the time to pass. An ambitious Senate schedule for the next month just got even more ambitious after Reid said Tuesday he would try to resolve a flurry of issues before the upcoming October break.   Once the Senate finishes up the small business bill later this week, Reid will move on to the defense authorization bill which includes a repeal of the military’s controversial Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy. In addition, Reid said he wants to add an immigration measure to the defense bill. While the DREAM Act is hardly a comprehensive move, it would help undocumented students who came to the US before age 16 become legal residents after five years by completing higher education or military service.   But wait, there’s more. The Nevada lawmaker also said he expects to have a vote on extending tax cuts for middle-class Americans before the Senate leaves in a month. And, in the wake of the massive egg recall, Reid told reporters that he hopes to make progress on a sweeping food safety bill within the next day by swaying an un-named Republican. Then there’s also that small matter of continuing to fund the government.   Senator Claire McCaskill, D-Missouri, suggested via Twitter that the Senate might also consider her proposal to outlaw secret holds that senators can currently put on administration nominees.   Small business aid. Don't Ask, Don't Tell. Immigration. Taxes. Food Safety. Secret holds. Funding the government. That’s one aggressive schedule for a Senate bogged down in partisan gridlock and ever more focused on the November mid-terms. After all, Democrats – with their 59-vote majority – need at least one Republican to get anything in the Senate past a strong and stubborn GOP minority. And Republicans are hardly on board with most of these issues.   Once the small business bill passes later this week after overcoming a key procedural vote today, the feasibility of the to-do list gets tricky. For instance, the last time the Senate tried to bring up the defense bill, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., blocked it because it included the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell repeal and a provision that would allow abortions to take place at military hospitals on the condition that no federal money be used. A spokesperson for McCain reiterated the senator’s stance in a statement Monday evening. As for the immigration amendment, the Senate’s number-two Democrat Dick Durbin has been championing the bill for years. It has won the support of a handful of Republicans in the past, but failed in 2007 when it last came up for a vote.   Mitch McConnell, the top Senate Republican, denounced the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell repeal and the DREAM Act as “extraneous measures that have nothing to do with defense,” making the bill “needlessly controversial.”   The issue of the Bush tax cuts may be even more divisive. Republicans and Democrats on Tuesday dug in their heels and stuck strictly to their talking points.   “What we ought not to be doing is raising taxes on anybody in the middle of a recession,” McConnell said. And – in case there were any doubts about the unity of Republicans – he noted, “The Republican Conference believes that raising taxes on anybody in the middle of a recession is a bad idea.”   Even though at least five Senate Democrats have voiced skepticism or opposition to the President Obama’s proposal to let the tax cuts expire for the wealthiest Americans, Reid on Tuesday emphasized, “We're united, as a Democratic caucus, in cutting taxes for middle-class Americans and small businesses – and I would hope that the Republicans wouldn't hold hostage middle-class tax cuts in order to protect these giveaways to millionaires and billionaires.”   The key question, though, is if Democrats have the votes to pass Obama’s plan. But when that question was put to him Tuesday afternoon, Reid only said, “I think it would certainly be the right thing to do, and [there's] only one way of finding out, and that's take a vote on it.”   Ultimately, of course, it will be the votes that determine if Reid’s schedule is truly realistic or overly ambitious. Republicans think it’s clearly the latter.   “Over-promising and under-delivering: that’s just part of who he is,” a Senate Republican aide, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told ABC News.   Time, as always, will tell.

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