Rejecting Democratic overtures to work out a plan for amendments, Senate Republicans blocked sprawling, bipartisan tax legislation Thursday, heightening the chances that Congress won't work the issue out until the lame-duck session after the November elections.
Republican senators voted against moving forward despite general support for the underlying legislation. At issue, once again, was whether Majority Leader Harry Reid would allow senators to offer amendments.
Reid offered to have Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden and ranking member Orrin Hatch work out a plan for amendments if the Senate mustered the 60 votes needed to end debate on the bill, but nearly all Republicans refused to go along. The cloture motion failed, 53-40.
Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell traded pointed speeches before the vote, with each blaming the other for holding up the legislation.
"This is completely out of control," McConnell said, as many Republicans stood and watched his speech from near the dais. "It's a gag order on the American people we represent."
Reid called McConnell the "guardian of gridlock" in a short speech objecting to McConnell's request for amendments.
The setback for the bill, which the Finance Committee approved on a voice vote last month, likely means the tax extenders won't be taken up again until after the election. Reid voted no for procedural reasons so that he could bring the legislation up again.
Sen. Mark Kirk of Illinois was the only Republican to vote with Democrats on the motion. Kirk voted for cloture because he was a cosponsor in the Senate of the Hire More Heroes Act—the House legislation being used as a legislative vehicle in this case, his office said in a statement.
Hatch sounded pessimistic when asked before the vote if a defeat would give Reid any incentive to bring the bill to the floor again. "Well, maybe he won't bring it up before the election," Hatch said. "Then we'll have to do it after the election."
Meanwhile, the House is pursuing a piece-by-piece approach, having passed one tax extender before this week's recess.
The drama on Thursday afternoon followed a similar impasse this week on an energy-efficiency bill. The Senate failed to advance that measure because Republicans were angry about not being able to offer amendments.
Democrats seem just as frustrated as Republicans about the gridlock. "Once again Republicans can't take yes for an answer," Reid said.
This article appears in the May 16, 2014 edition of NJ Daily.