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Congress / BUDGET

The Senate's Agenda-Less Staycation

Democrats want to show they're on the job in what was scheduled to be a recess week, but what will they actually do?

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid(Liz Lynch)

photo of Dan  Friedman
June 30, 2011

Sensitive to the perception that they would be vacationing without reaching a deficit deal, Senate Democrats on Thursday canceled the chamber’s weeklong July Fourth recess in a largely symbolic gesture to show that they are on the job.

(RELATED: Senate Democrats Cancel Recess)

The chamber, however, has nothing to do on the issue, no real legislative options, until the White House and congressional leaders reach an agreement on deficit cuts and raising the $14.3 trillion federal debt ceiling.

 

That leaves Democrats with a plan to stay in Washington but no decision on what they will do, with a vote scheduled for Tuesday but no announcement on what they will vote on.

“There is so much to do to put Americans back to work, cut our deficit, and get our economy back on track,” Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Thursday when he announced his decision. Hours later, Democratic leaders said they were still discussing a plan for next week.

Democrats are considering adopting President Obama’s populist tone from his Wednesday news conference, in which he ripped the GOP for protecting tax breaks for corporate jet owners and major oil and gas companies.

Democratic aides suggested leaders were considering if they can force votes on the repeal of at least a few of these tax breaks, a move that would likely draw Republicans into the politically unpalatable position of filibustering the bills. Those tax “loopholes” are minuscule relative to the federal budget, but offer potentially potent talking points if Democrats maneuver the GOP into defending them, rather than offering more general opposition to new taxation.

“How much progress we make [next week] depends on whether Republicans move off their extreme position that continuing taxpayer-funded giveaways for corporate jet owners and oil companies is more important than cutting our deficit and creating jobs,” a Democratic leadership aide said.

Without any legislation pending, however, Democrats have no immediate card to play to force votes by next week.

In floor speeches Thursday, a series of Democrats ripped tax breaks for corporate jets, yacht owners, the horse-racing industry, and top oil and gas companies.

“What we’re trying to highlight is who they are really protecting,” said Senate Democratic Policy and Communications Chairman Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.

Also next week, Senate Budget Chairman Kent Conrad, D-N.D., is expected to release a proposed fiscal 2012 budget resolution that is expected to include more than $4 trillion in suggested cuts over 10 years. Conrad's budget proposal is modeled on the Bowles-Simpson deficit-reduction plan, which emerged last December from a presidential commission. Conrad will brief Democratic leaders on his budget Tuesday, aides said.

Reid has also invited President Obama to meet with Senate Democrats on Wednesday. Democrats said details of that meeting are in the works.

Senate Republicans, meanwhile, will continue promoting a balanced-budget amendment next week, ahead of an expected vote the week of July 18.

Democratic aides said the chamber is also likely to vote on a resolution authorizing U.S. military action in Libya next week, though Democrats say they want to focus on the budget.

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