Republican cooperation (?)

By Lesley Russell in Washington DC

17 December 2010

After the midterm elections, the Senate Republicans declared that they were uninterested in any action on any legislation unless and until the Bush tax cuts were restored.

But now that has (almost) been done (the Obama / Republican tax package passed the Senate yesterday 81-19 ), the Republicans are finding all sorts of excuses for not moving forward the DREAM Act, the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell, and the new START treaty - three major Democratic priorities. It's not like any of these bills are new to the agenda. First introduced in 2001, the DREAM Act was considered three times this year, finally securing passage in the House last week. Proposed in 2005, DADT repeal has been considered in committee or voted on at least five times this year. First presented to the Senate in April, the New START treaty has been President Obama's major foreign policy priority this year.

However in the waning days of the lame duck session, the Senate has failed to secure passage of a single one of these items – or the 38 judicial nominations that are still pending. The primary reason: the GOP's continuing pattern of obstruction.

Now they are trying to claim that the Democrats are being sacrilegious in pushing for more votes. On Tuesday Senator Jon Kyl suggested that Senate Leader Harry Reid would be on the verge of "disrespecting one of the two holiest days for Christians" by pushing the Senate to work on the omnibus spending bill and the New START nuclear treaty right up until December 25. And Senator Jim DeMint said it would be "sacrilegious" to hold votes on the $1.1 trillion spending package and the treaty immediately before Christmas. This of course ignores the fact that most Americans get only Christmas Day off.

Still, in a moment of candour on Fox News, DeMint was more honest about his shameless obstructionism. "What I'm trying to do is help run out the clock."

Many Republicans are now also threatening to obstruct and oppose the omnibus spending bill (which provides the money to keep the government running) - despite inserting hundreds of their own earmarks into the legislation.

GOP Senate Leader Mitch McConnell has asked for $4 million for marijuana eradication efforts by the Kentucky National Guard, $1 million for construction of the Kentucky Blood Center Building; and $650,000 for Advanced Genetic Technologies, a DNA research center at the University of Kentucky

Republican Senators John Cornyn of Texas and John Thune of South Dakota held a press conference yesterday where they blasted the bill, yet the two of them have requested a combined 71 earmarks in the bill. Reporters pelted them with questions about these earmarks, to which they deflected that they would vote no on the bill anyway. "I support those projects, but I don't support this bill," Thune said.

Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) has requested over $16 million in defense-related earmarks. When he appeared on Fox News,  host Bill Hemmer confronted Cornyn with this. Cornyn fumbled and tried to change the subject, but after being pressed, he defended the merits of his earmarks, trying to exculpate himself by saying he requested the money "earlier on in the year":

HEMMER: You yourself have asked for earmarks too. ... Can you defend that senator?

CORNYN: Well, I believe I can. But I'm not going to. Because I'm going to vote against this bill. ... I think we need an earmark moratorium, which I voted for two years, till we fix this broken system, because it's become a symbol of wasteful Washington spending.

HEMMER: I get it, but I'm confused then, then why is there $16 million in requests from you? Is that not true?

CORNYN: Earlier on in the year, I did request earmarks that I think are individually defensible. And if we had a debate on the floor, I think I could show how they help our men and women in uniform fight two different wars.

So Cornyn, Thune and others will pander to the Tea Party movement and rely on the more responsible members of Congress to pass the bills that will keep the government functioning – and give them their earmarks, which they will surely be quick to claim.

And don't for one moment think that these are men of principle. Even the one-year continuing resolution that eliminates all earmarks and limits spending that the House passed last week got is getting a decidedly cold reception from Senate Republicans. "I am not going to vote for the omnibus, and, from what I hear about the CR, I don't think it looks very good either," said Mitch McConnell.

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