Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) on Monday accused Republicans of inviting the prospect of another partial shutdown of the federal government by pushing to attach anti-environment, pro-coal measures to appropriations legislation.
“We’ve had enough sequestrations and government shutdowns that I hope my Republican colleagues aren’t headed in that direction again, given the importance of appropriations legislation and the need to keep our government operating,” he said on the Senate floor.
Legislation to keep the federal government running once funding expires on Sept. 30 hit a wall last week amid disputes between Democrats and Republicans over amendments, something that has become common for even bipartisan bills in the Senate. This time the dispute was over an amendment to block President Barack Obama’s new rules to combat climate change.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) sought a vote on his amendment targeting the proposed regulations on coal-fired power plants. Democrats insisted on a 60-vote threshold for passage and McConnell balked, demanding that it be held at a simple majority vote. In response, Reid pulled the legislation.
On Monday, Reid mocked the Republican leader’s “recent conversion to the idea of insisting on simple majority votes,” blaming the “McConnell rule” for turning the Senate into a 60-vote body for most initiatives. He then made an interesting offer to the Kentuckian: we’ll allow your anti-EPA amendment to come up at a simple majority threshold if you allow the same for Democrats’ bills to require gun background checks, a minimum wage hike and equal pay — all of which enjoy majority support in the Senate but have been blocked by filibusters.
“Okay, Mr. Republican leader, if you want a vote on your EPA amendment, fine,” Reid said. “You want a simple majority, we’ll take that, but let’s have a simple majority on these other issues we feel are extremely important to help the middle class — in exchange for simple majority on … minimum wage, student loans, equal pay for men and women, energy efficiency legislation, background checks for gun purchases.”
McConnell hasn’t accepted Reid’s offer. “He offered 51 on one of ours and ALL of his, right?” Don Stewart, his spokesman, said in an email. He argued that McConnell’s EPA measure was in a different category. “The standing rules of the Senate already allow for pending, germane amendments to have votes at a simple majority threshold,” Stewart said.
Some Democrats in red states support McConnell’s anti-EPA measure, including Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu the chair of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, who faces a tough reelection fight in November. Reid, a strong supporter of Obama’s EPA rules to combat climate change, would have a tougher time scuttling the amendment at a 51-vote threshold.
“The Senate Democrat leadership pulled the energy and water bill from consideration – for one reason: to protect the administration’s new job-killing coal regulations,” McConnell said on Thursday, describing the decision as “yet another example of the lengths they’ll go to defend Obama administration’s regulatory agenda … even when supposedly pro-energy Senate Democrats try to make us think otherwise.”
McConnell faces his own reelection battle in his coal-heavy state against Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes, who also opposes the president’s coal regulations and is mounting a credible bid for McConnell’s seat. McConnell and his Republican colleagues in the House and Senate have expressed considerable enthusiasm for blocking or undermining Obama’s EPA regulations in a must-pass government funding bill, lacking other options to scuttle it.