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Senate Debt Ceiling Watch Party

(photo: F.Pamplona)

We’ve moved over to Part II now, so please join us

Live on CSPAN2 now

The Senate vote for cloture on the Reid bill is scheduled for 1am on Sunday morning.  The House will vote on the Reid bill at 2:30 today, prior to the Senate vote.  It will be on the suspension calendar which means that it can have no amendments and would need 2/3 vote to pass.

Liveblog

4:21: Durbin objects to the unanimous consent to allow Paul to add his balanced budget amendment to Reid bill.

4:19: Paul: It’s irresponsible for the President not to guarantee that the country’s debt will be paid (huh?) Wants to present an amendment to the Reid bill. Has 10 GOP who will agree to vote for the Reid bill if this amendment is added.  Asks for unanimous consent to present the amendment to the Reid bill — balanced budget amendment.

3:45:  Patty Murray flogs the increased interest rates, higher mortgage payments and unemployment rates in case of default (because of a credit rating downgrade one presumes, echoing Obama’s Friday speech). The Democrats are playing with fire validating the ratings agencies like this.  The GOP is already warming up “The Obama Downgrade” machine.

3:15:  Rubio flogging the AAA rating, and what it will mean to the American people.  Why don’t the Dems have a game plan for this?  All their messaging has validated this.  And it’s going to be hung around their necks.

2:51 Landrieu: Revenues coming in are the lowest that they’ve been since (WW II? — wish they’d talk more about this, and the need to pay for the government services we expect).

2:20: Jeff Sessions:  The President said his only bottom line is that they extend the debt ceiling through the next election.  It’s all about him, what’s good for him. His reelection is the only thing he cares about.  Well, it was a cringe-worthy moment.

2:05: Isakson would like to focus on things they agree on. Both parties agree on the need for a “Super Congress” which is not subject to normal parliamentary procedure to cut Social Security and Medicare, something the public is overwhelmingly opposed to.  He’s certainly right about that.

1:59:  Shaheen reads letter from constituents.  The theme: “do what needs to be done to protect us.”  Sounds like they’re laying the tracks for the 14th Amendment or coin seigniorage (which beowolf was suggesting on January 3).

1:42 FINALLY Levin pivots — “the vote tonight at 1am isn’t a vote on the Reid bill, it’s a vote to end debate on the Reid bill.”  It’s all just theater I know, but seriously —  it took them 16 hours to come up with a messaging rejoinder to McConnell?

1:33: Durbin is droning on about GOP filibuster.  They ought to be able to do better than retreading that one at this point. Says quite rightly that this has been completely routine  vote under Bush, Reagan and other presidents.  A much more compelling argument.

1:28 pm: Reid says he only wants to vote now if they can have an up-or-down vote, otherwise he wants to take the cloture vote at 1am in the morning rather than right now. He then accuses the Republicans of delaying.  Good lord.  This makes Reid’s handling of the Roland Burris matter look masterful.

Come on over when you’re done Harry, let’s play Texas hold ’em. (See: I Want to Play Poker With Harry Reid, January 7 2009)

1:25 pm:  McConnell  says with 2 days left the only thing we should be dealing with is something the President says he would sign, so he should be in any negotiations.

1:10 pm: McConnell doubles down, and wants to vote now on the Reid bill, which he says adds trillions more to the debt.  (Ironically the levels of discretionary spending over the next 10 years is almost identical in the Reid and Ryan bills.)

1:00 pm:  Reid’s script about “Republican delays” sounds a bit weak today.  Did he not hear McConnell’s offer to allow a cloture vote last night?

Background

The Senate vote for cloture on the Reid bill is scheduled for 1am on Sunday morning.  The House will vote on the Reid bill at 2:30 today, prior to the Senate vote.  It will be on the suspension calendar which means that it can have no amendments and would need 2/3 vote to pass.

Last night Harry Reid filed cloture on his bill, which meant the Senate would vote on cloture 30 hours later.   McConnell turned to Reid and told him the Republicans would allow a vote right now. It completely threw Reid, who waffled and said they’d only do it if they could have an up-or-down vote.  McConnell refused.  Reid quickly called for a “fake quorum call.”

For those of us left scratching our heads about WTF is going on, powwow gives a helpful blow-by-blow about what exactly happened:

Here are some of the facts that you won’t hear Harry Reid, Dick Durbin, Chuck Schumer, or Patty Murray mentioning when it’s their turn at bat in the dueling Party vs. Party press conferences (or addressing in response to questions, because members of the media covering them are unable/unwilling to point out such ‘inconvenient’ truths):

1. As Jane found out, it’s pretty damn hard to “liveblog” the U.S. Senate, as presently operated, because, as a direct result of the “fake quorum call,” the Senate floor is anything but “live.” [See Jane’s liveblog above of the subsequent Democratic press conference, which lasted longer than the floor “debate” tonight.]

2. The Senate has had Harry Reid’s personal budget deal (as approved by the President) – containing the Catfood II Joint Select Committee, whose “goal [] shall be to reduce the deficit to 3 percent or less of GDP” – in front of it
since Monday evening. But for as long as Harry Reid’s personal deal has been before the Senate (all week), no amending of the deal has been possible on the Senate floor, because Harry Reid deliberately prevented that (by “filling the tree”; “tree” refers to a chart showing how amendments are offered in the Senate under regular order). So, instead, the Senate again idled most of the week, while Democratic Senators spent their time calling certain House Republicans names they’d never dare call them to their faces (“radical,” “extremist,” etc., etc.).

3. The same exact deal (at least as far as the public knows; changes may have been made to it in the backrooms since) that Harry Reid put before the Senate Monday evening, which was still before the Senate on Friday evening, was put before the Senate again this evening by Reid, with the only obvious change being the “legislative vehicle” to which it was attached. Harry Reid was formerly amending S. 1323 with Senate Amendment 581, now Harry Reid is amending S. 627 (the same bill that John Boehner used to put his deal before the House) with Senate Amendment 589. [The House-passed Budget Control Act of 2011 (the Boehner deal) had been transmitted to the Senate by 8:00 p.m., and Reid moved to lay that “Message from the House” before the Senate at that time.]

4. Just as Harry Reid did on Monday evening, as soon as Reid refiled his deal as an amendment to S. 627, he again abused his power to “fill the tree,” in order to block all amendments and thus prevent any other Senator from making a change to his deal on the floor without unanimous consent. [That was the five minutes or so this evening when Reid was incomprehensively calling up one (nonsense) amendment/motion after another and calling for the yeas and nays on each of them.]

5. As soon as the “Message from the House” – the Boehner deal, as passed by the House in an amendment to an unrelated Senate FOIAct bill – was placed before the Senate at Reid’s request at 8:00 p.m. tonight, Harry Reid immediately “moved to concur” in that House Message, and then immediately “moved to table the motion to concur” that he’d just made. The Senate then voted, without debate, on Reid’s motion to table (that is, to kill, or remove from the Senate agenda) the House Message that Reid had just voluntarily placed before the Senate. Reid’s “motion to table the motion to concur” with the House Message passed, 59-41.

6. After his motion to table passed, Harry Reid again asked to place the (just-tabled) House Message before the Senate, and this time “moved to concur with the House amendment with an amendment.” Meaning that Harry Reid moved to file a Senate amendment (#589, containing his personal deal) to the House amendment (containing the Boehner deal) that the House had added to the shell Senate FOIAct bill S. 627. That changed the “legislative vehicle” to which the Reid deal (in the form of an amendment) is attached, and replaced S. 1323 with S. 627 as the Senate’s pending business.

7. Immediately after moving to amend the Boehner deal with his deal, Harry Reid, with 17 of his Democratic colleagues, filed a supermajority cloture motion on S. 627 (which now contains the Boehner deal, with a pending substitute Reid amendment/deal), “to bring debate to a close” on S. 627 (the Reid deal). Under the optional rule of the Senate that the Democratic majority voluntarily invoked by filing its cloture motion, the Senate must wait a day before voting on the cloture motion, unless unanimous consent is received otherwise. In this case, Sunday is the first day the Senate could vote on today’s cloture motion, and so Reid has been planning a 1 a.m. vote on Sunday morning (according to Chuck Schumer at a Friday news conference and Reid on the floor this evening). Yet, if 60 votes are obtained Sunday morning, the cloture process allows another 30 hours of debate before a final simple-majority vote can be held, unless waived by unanimous consent (the cloture process was never intended, when created in 1917, to be used in the absence of obstructive debating filibusters, the way it’s now being routinely abused by the Democratic Senate).

8. Notably, however, before Reid even filed his cloture motion this evening, Mitch McConnell asked Reid if he planned to file cloture, and, if so, if Reid and the Democrats would be willing, as every member of the Republican Caucus was, to hold an immediate vote on S. 627 (the Reid deal, the substance of which, again, has been before the Senate since Monday evening, though attached to a different shell bill). McConnell also noted that he had learned that the House planned to vote on the Reid deal (even though not passed by the Senate) at 1:00 p.m. on Saturday.

9. McConnell’s request had a catch though: McConnell wanted a supermajority (60-vote) threshold for tonight’s immmediate vote on the Reid deal, just like the threshold that Reid was about to impose on the Senate with his cloture motion. Reid, obviously anticipating McConnell’s public request, declined to accept an immediate vote, because of McConnell’s supermajority vote threshold, and then immediately proceeded to file his already-prepared Democratic cloture motion to impose his own supermajority (60-vote) threshold on the Senate (and his deal) instead, including, in Reid’s case, a day’s delay until the cloture motion “ripens” under the rule. And then Reid called what had just transpired a “filibuster” by the Republicans ‘any way you look at it.’ [Apparently in the same way that the President’s war on Libya is not “hostilities” ‘any way you look at it’…]

10. Which, finally, brings me back to the “Fake Quorum Call.” Harry Reid rightly stated that the Senate should be voting by simple majority (as the Standing Rules provide), on this and most legislation, but then implied that the Republicans were preventing that from happening. Except, of course, that’s false. It’s the Parties that are preventing that from happening, for their own convenience – though that’s well-disguised by partisan point-scoring. All Harry Reid has to do to return the Senate to simple-majority operation is to allow the Senate’s default rules and regular order to obtain. And in order to do that, all Harry Reid has to do is to give the same signal he gave to the Parliamentarian/Clerk/Presiding Officer earlier this very same evening (at about 7:00 p.m.) to transform the Senate-idling fake quorum call into a real/live quorum call. And then to do the same thing every time anyone tries to reimpose the fake quorum call on the Senate – which blocks all Senate business, never comes to an end on its own, may only be lifted by unanimous consent or by the Majority Leader (until a Senator finally challenges the practice as out of order), and allows Senators to be anywhere but on the Senate floor while the Senate is “in session.” Once the Fake Quorum Call is lifted, if no Senator takes the floor to debate (that’s how one actually “filibusters,” if the debate is deliberately obstructive), the Presiding Officer is obliged to “put the pending question” (in this case, the Reid deal) to a simple-majority vote of the Senate.

When Mark Udall, on Reid’s behalf, adjourned the Senate for the night at about 9:00 p.m., we learned that they’ve arranged for a period of six hours of “debate” on Reid’s unamendable deal (which has been before the Senate all week) on Saturday afternoon – from about 1:00 p.m to 7:30 p.m. Obviously, scoring partisan points about this subject is seen as extremely important by the leadership of both Parties (largely because of the debt-ceiling extension’s potential impact on the wholly-unrelated presidential election campaign), and that’s what Saturday’s Senate speeches will amount to, absent unexpected developments (revised Gang of Six deal?). It sounded like Reid was also preparing to agree to an earlier cloture vote (at about 8:00 p.m. Saturday evening, instead of 1:00 a.m.), but that’s a guess. Since Reid has filled the tree and won’t remove the Fake Quorum Call, the only way his deal will change is by unanimous consent, after any privately-offered changes have first been privately vetted (by McConnell and Reid – with the President who’s directing him – and possibly by Boehner). Again, that assumes no unexpected developments break the corrupt status quo – like the welcome emergence of a group of Senators who decide to stand up and bypass their petty leadership to think and act for themselves, and to work on behalf of their nation, instead of simply obeying backroom orders from their Parties or the President’s re-election campaign.

It’s incredible how thoroughly uninterested most incumbent Senators and Representatives seem to be in actually doing the work that they claim so desperately needs doing… They want a few Leaders to do it all for them, behind closed doors, and then to simply tell them how they should cast their public vote, while still claiming the title of a federal legislator (as opposed to a Party order-taking hack) with a straight face. Most of them have been passively waiting to receive those orders for months now – particularly in the Senate.

Thus, since the President and a few Party Leaders will clearly be the ones privately controlling the outcome of the Catfood II Committee on Deficit Reduction, most House and Senate legislators seem not the least bit concerned – if not downright relieved – with the fact that the Committee’s unknown product will be completely unamendable by anyone in Congress after the 12 Members appointed to sit on the Committee (by Party Leadership) report out their recommendations. The Parties will speak when the Joint Select Committee reports this November, and our “representatives” apparently plan to salute and obediently do what they consider their only job to be – to cast the public vote (at least until they can find a way to do that privately too) that their Party tells them to cast.

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Jane Hamsher

Jane Hamsher

Jane is the founder of Firedoglake.com. Her work has also appeared on the Huffington Post, Alternet and The American Prospect. She’s the author of the best selling book Killer Instinct and has produced such films Natural Born Killers and Permanent Midnight. She lives in Washington DC.
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