The Senate is in session right now, with votes scheduled to start at 10:30am ET. Cloture on the motion to concur on the DREAM Act is first. If that fails, the Senate will move to cloture on a motion to concur on repealing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. Last night, the Senate passed a House bill that would fund the government for 3 additional days, until Tuesday, buying time on a longer continuing resolution so there’s no government shutdown. That sets the stage for today.

Yesterday, there were a lot of idle threats about Republicans opposing the new START treaty if the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and DREAM Act votes are taken. Democrats in the Senate basically ignored it. And it wasn’t more than a couple hours before Senators started backing away from that threat. In fact, Mitch McConnell seemed resigned that the Senate would pass the DADT repeal and the START treaty.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) expressed confidence Republicans would be able to stop the DREAM Act when it comes up for a vote, but was far less certain his party would be able to stop the New START Treaty or a bill to repeal “Don’t ask, don’t tell.”

McConnell said Friday on Sean Hannity’s conservative radio talk show that he was “pretty confident that’ll be defeated,” in reference to the DREAM Act, legislation that would grant a conditional path to citizenship for immigrants who were brought illegally to the U.S. as children.

On the other two items, McConnell was less sure […]

“I just can’t tell you how it’s going to come out yet,” McConnell said, explaining that his No. 2, Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (Ariz.), had been spearheading the effort against that bill while McConnell had focused on taxes and the omnibus.

In fact, all of a sudden other bills are coming out of the woodwork. The Senate passed the COMPETES Reauthorization Act last night by voice vote. That’s a bill that strengthens math, science and technology education through investment. That basically came out of nowhere. A stripped-down defense authorization bill is on the agenda after overwhelmingly passing in the House yesterday. And the 9-11 rescue worker health bill is clearly coming up for a vote soon. Democrats pounced all over a comment from John McCain, claiming that the Senate was “fooling around” with bills like that instead of funding the government. Frank Lautenberg struck back:

“It’s shocking to learn that Senator John McCain said the Senate is ‘fooling around’ by trying to pass a health care bill for 9/11’s first responders. The 9/11 workers are heroes, too, and they should be treated as such. They have paid a price for their courage and we owe them the same courtesy as others who have served America. This is not just a New York matter, it is a national matter,” Lautenberg said.

Democrats are trying to get other bills across the line too. Harry Reid introduced the America’s Great Outdoors Act of 2010, a compilation of 100 individual land, water and wildlife bills. Democratic Senators (and a few Republicans) are trying to get LIHEAP (Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program) extended through next year. The hostage-taking isn’t working in the Senate in these final weeks, as Democrats recognize this final opportunity to get something done.

As for the two major items up for vote today: activists have worked the halls of Congress on the DREAM Act, but “targets” like Lindsey Graham are saying things like this on the Senate floor: “To those who have come to my office – you’re always welcome to come but you’re wasting your time.” It will certainly be a baseline for Latino leaders to know who supports their community, and that will be remembered in the 2012 elections, but passage is unlikely.

Don’t Ask Don’t Tell repeal seems to have the votes in hand, with four Republicans announcing their support. Only Joe Manchin’s vote is not secure on the Democratic side. Perhaps he will listen to the words of Steve Clemons, who he discussed it with recently.

Voting will begin shortly.

David Dayen

David Dayen