McConnell shows he’s the boss

25 Jan 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Keystone XL amendments had senators doing the unusual: voting … a lot.

FILE: June 11, 2013: Then-Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R- Ky., left, and Minority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas, speak with reporters on Capitol Hill, in Washington, D.C. (AP) Late at night, the beam of a massive, Klieg searchlight knifes through the Gotham skyline.Washington (CNN)Senators worked till midnight on Thursday moving through a series of amendments to a bill that would green-light construction of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, but Senate Democrats wanted to stay longer.

After all, debts must be paid, and the oil and gas industry — which gave 87 percent of its 2014 campaign contributions to the Republican Party — expects to be rewarded for its support. Reid’s spokesman Adam Jentleson accused McConnell of shutting down debate so Republican senators could attend a retreat sponsored by Charles and David Koch on Friday.

The Kentucky Republican promised to restore a more open process that many senators hungered for after Democrats ran the place with a tight grip during the previous eight years. Dick Durbin, who had praised McConnell earlier that same day for leading an open debate, said the move was not “in the best interest” of the Senate. Late Thursday, as midnight neared, McConnell abruptly shut down the Keystone debate, forcing senators to take a rapid-fire series of votes without allowing discussion. “Mr. And it’s true: Building Keystone XL could slightly increase U.S. employment — slightly as in replacing only about 5 percent of the jobs America lost because of destructive cuts in federal spending that resulted from the Republican blackmail over the debt ceiling. Members offered amendments on everything from climate change, to federally protected land, to limiting the president’s ability to initiate and sign bilateral agreements with foreign countries.

Democrats noted that McConnell had previously threatened to hold Friday votes to get through Keystone work, and suggested that he cut debate short to let Republicans head to a weekend conference for a group affiliated with the Koch brothers. But Republicans dismissed the criticism, arguing that a full week of debate over Keystone was more than enough, and noting that the amount of work done in the Senate on the bill — at least in terms of votes — surpassed what was done over the entire last year. “The Senate voted on more amendments to the Keystone bill than the total # allowed in all of 2014 combined,” tweeted Don Stewart, McConnell’s spokesman. The night’s events, however, further strained relations between the two parties headed into what’s already likely to be a tense vote on the controversial bill next week. So McConnell shut down votes on five of the six remaining Democratic amendments. ”And the record will reflect the spirited debate on those amendments, when you wouldn’t even give the authors 60 seconds to describe what was in the amendment,” Durbin said angrily when McConnell didn’t meet all of his demands. (RELATED: House Border Security Bill Clears Dem Temper Tantrum) McConnell then offered to hold quick votes on the rest of the amendments Friday.

Ed Markey (D-Mass.) hollered, trying to get the attention of the presiding officer. “I ask unanimous consent that I be allowed one minute to speak on my amendment before it is voted upon.” “I think everybody understands,” McConnell said late Thursday. “We have been on this bill for a while. Democrats objected to the votes again on the same grounds, and then complained when McConnell moved the remaining votes to Monday. “They were sort of up in arms that they were allowed to have votes on their amendments,” Heritage Action spokesman Dan Holler told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “It was just a bizarre thing to watch.” As of Thursday afternoon, McConnell had allowed votes on 15 amendments, surpassing the total amount of Senate votes on amendments in 2014. That’s why a great majority of economists believe that the Obama stimulus did reduce the unemployment rate compared with what it would have been without that stimulus. Reid was not impressed. “The success of a Congress is not determined on how many amendments people vote on,” he said in a briefing Thursday, before turning the question into an opportunity to talk about the success of the middle class. Maria Cantwell (D) of Washington, the chair and ranking member on Energy and Natural Resources Committee, have worked behind the scenes to find amendments both sides are willing to tackle.

And they’ve gotten their way: The years after 2010, when Republicans took control of the House, were marked by an unprecedented decline in real government spending per capita, which leveled off only in 2014. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) to a big Palm Springs weekend political retreat being sponsored by the billionaire Koch brothers. As a result, the Senate has debated subjects such as climate change, potential limitations on informal and formal executive treaties, taxation of tar-sands oil, and topics such as private property vs. eminent domain. The downside was that some members had a difficult time contrasting themselves with their Republican opponents in the midterm elections. (RELATED: Inside Harry Reid’s Senate ‘Plantation’) “I am very excited about the process, the open amendment process,” Democratic Sen. There was even a moment of levity when the chamber agreed overwhelmingly, 98-1, to a Democratic measure that said simply: Climate change is real and not a hoax.

Several amendments were held to a 60-vote threshold, meaning that not all senators would allow those votes unless there was an implicit understanding that they wouldn’t pass. Democrats defended the practice, saying all Republicans wanted to do was slow things down with gobs of amendments — often designed to make vulnerable Democrats look bad. When it comes to possible cuts in defense contracts, politicians who loudly proclaim that every dollar the government spends comes at the expense of the private sector suddenly begin talking about all the jobs that will be destroyed.

Among them was an amendment to require the oil being shipped on the pipeline be used in the U.S. rather than exported, one to require that the project be constructed with only U.S.-made steel and other components, plus four other amendments related to climate change. Barney Frank dubbed this “weaponized Keynesianism.” The argument being made for Keystone is very similar; call it “carbonized Keynesianism.” Yes, approving the pipeline would mobilize some money that would otherwise have sat idle and create some jobs — 42,000 during the construction phase, according to the most widely cited estimate. (Once completed, the pipeline would employ only a few dozen workers.) But government spending on roads, bridges and schools would do the same thing.

And the jobs argument is basically a sick joke coming from people who have done all they can to destroy American jobs — and are now employing the very arguments they used to ridicule government job programs to justify a big giveaway to their friends in the fossil fuel industry. And if that doesn’t work, the leader can even request the Sergeant at Arms to “compel” or even “arrest” senators in an effort to hustle them to the floor to constitute a quorum. At that point, we’ll see if McConnell’s experiment with regular order is sustainable or if the “Senate syndrome” will erode the good will that was built this past week. McConnell then told his colleagues that the only way to break the gridlock over the 12 pending amendments was to file what’s called “cloture” on each amendment.

His amendment would subject the Canadian oil derived from the ground and transferred through the Keystone pipeline to a federal excise tax on petroleum. “Mr. Alvarez then ripped through nearly all the names on the entire Senate roster in a startling one minute and 25 seconds, the fastest anyone has called the roll in years.

And so went the Senate until after midnight, euthanizing a number of Democratic amendments without recording an up-or-down vote on any of them or permitting even the briefest debate. Perhaps it may help to shine the Bat-Signal from the Capitol Dome on evenings like Thursday in hopes the Caped Crusader could speed to the Senate to resolve things.

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