By Manu Raju
Senate Democrats left two days of legislative business officially open last week, hobbling GOP efforts to bring up a bill punishing a liberal California city for scolding Marine Corps recruiters.
Republicans said Democrats clearly wanted to avoid being forced to choose between the Marine Corps or Berkeley, Calif., known for its liberalism and fervent anti-war positions.
Instead of adjourning at the end of a day as usual, the Senate “recessed” twice, a move that, under Senate rules, slows the process of adding new bills to the calendar. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) did not adjourn until last Friday, effectively pushing back floor consideration on the GOP bill until Tuesday — the same day that the city council is likely to tone down its call for Marine Corps recruiters to leave town.
“The only reason to recess is to block something, and the thing that got blocked by Reid’s stall tactic was the Semper Fi Act,” said spokesman Wesley Denton, referring to the bill introduced by his boss, Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.).
“Democrats have chosen not to defend the Marine Corps, but to pander to anti-war protesters and Berkeley officials that are actively trying to impede military recruitment.”
But Reid’s office says that recessing was done to give the majority the flexibility to map out broader floor strategy on a range of bills for the coming week.
Reid spokesman Jim Manley said the decision to recess resulted because of discussions over whether to start the process of bringing to the floor a short-term extension of an electronic surveillance law. The Senate is expected to vote Tuesday on amendments to a bill overhauling the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
“Democrats are working to provide the intelligence professionals with the tools they need to protect the nation from terrorism, while Republicans have done everything in their power to block the Senate from finishing the debate over the warrantless wiretapping program,” Manley said. “And all that Sen. DeMint can do is complain that we recessed instead of adjourned last week? We should be the ones complaining.”
The process of recessing is very unusual in the 110th Congress. The only times the Senate went into recess were on Sept. 12 and before and after a number of quick “pro forma” sessions held late last year and in early January, in a tactic to keep President Bush from making recess appointments.
When the Senate adjourns, a legislative day officially comes to an end. To bypass committee consideration of a bill, a senator can request that a bill be placed on the Senate calendar two legislative days after it is introduced.
Once a measure is on the calendar, a senator can request the Senate to approve a bill by unanimous consent, or force at least one member to object to its passage. But on Feb. 6 and Feb. 7, Reid and Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) closed the chamber’s doors by recessing until the next day, a move that, unlike adjourning, does not change the legislative day.
That tactic effectively delayed an effort by DeMint and five other conservatives to bring forward a bill, introduced on Feb. 6, that would strip Berkeley of $2 million worth of earmarks inserted into the $516 billion omnibus spending bill Bush signed into law at the end of 2007. According to three GOP aides, DeMint signaled on Feb. 6 that he would request that the bill be placed on the legislative calendar before the decision was made to recess, rather than adjourn, for the night.
“Berkeley needs to learn that their actions have consequences,” DeMint said.