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Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Reid Runs Into Dissent From Democrats On Omnibus Bill

Hold up a bill long enough and politicians might actually read the damn thing. I am sure this is the only lesson Senate Majority leader, Harry Reid, will have learned from the whole $410 billion omnibus spending bill fiasco.

Instead of gaining the one vote Reid was short to get 60 votes, the little games they have played by slapping items in the bill that have nothing to do with spending or appropriations, is costing the Democrats more votes, from their own party.

One example is a little part of the bill dealing with Cuba.

Democrats rejected four GOP amendments to the omnibus spending bill last night, and they will face more today. The additional amendments are the price that Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) was forced to pay Thursday night after he sought to bring an end to debate on the bill and came up one vote short. Several Republicans whose support Reid had anticipated did not deliver, but the most costly defection was that of Sen. Robert Menendez (N.J.), a member of the Democratic leadership, in protest of a little-noticed Cuba provision that would ease U.S. rules on travel and imports to the communist-led island.

The Menendez rebellion was a jolt of political reality for Reid, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Obama, signaling that the solidarity of the stimulus debate is fading as Democratic lawmakers are starting to read the fine print of the bills they will wrestle with in the coming weeks and months, and not always liking what they see.

Emphasis mine.

Menendez isn't the only one dissenting certain portions of the massive spending bill, but the portion of the bill that offended him was found because one of his aides saw the language about Cuba when the bill was posted to the congressional website. He is also a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, so he shouldn't have had to "run across" this language, he should have been informed, and they all need to start learning to read the fine print on these bills, before signing off on them to begin with.

Menendez made his point on the Senate floor:

Menendez knew that his hard-line approach to Cuba was a minority view within his party, and that it was at odds with Obama's approach. But he did not expect to discover a significant policy change embedded in the text on an appropriations bill. His policy aides came across the language when the legislation was posted on a congressional Web site.

"The process by which these changes have been forced upon this body is so deeply offensive to me, and so deeply undemocratic, that it puts the omnibus appropriations package in jeopardy, in spite of all the other tremendously important funding that this bill would provide," the enraged son of Cuban immigrants said last week on the Senate floor. Menendez even slapped a hold on a pair of Obama nominees to draw attention to the issue.

Two other Democrats balking at other portions of this spending bill are Ben Nelson and Kent Conrad, according to the Wapo article:

Already, a pair of provisions in Obama's budget have attracted determined, if limited, Democratic opposition. One proposal would overhaul the federal student loan program to guarantee yearly increases in the Pell Grant program. That idea enjoys broad Democratic support. But to pay for the Pell Grant expansion, Obama would end federal support for private lending. And one of the major corporate providers of student loans is NelNet, a company based in Lincoln, Neb., the home state of Sen. Ben Nelson, a moderate Democrat who balked at the stimulus package and teamed up with three moderate Republicans to cut $100 billion from the final bill. Cutting off support for NelNet would cost Nebraska about 1,000 jobs, according to Nelson's office. Nelson said the move could hurt middle-class students who do not qualify for Pell Grants. "I don't support anything that could reduce those benefits," Nelson said.

Nelson is also one of several Democrats who have objected to changes Obama has proposed in the farm subsidy system. By stopping direct payments to farms with annual sales of more than $500,000, the White House expects to save about $10 billion over 10 years. But along with Nelson, another Democratic opponent of Obama's annual-sales model is Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (N.D.).

Similar revolts are building against tax changes Obama has proposed, including one to limit deductions that many Democrats privately consider to be a non-starter.

Instead of going in and cutting things from the bill to gain support and additional votes, the Senate tends to add more to "bribe" other politicians into supporting it, and Reid has not learned yet that he ends up losing more support than he gains.

Will he learn from this? No. As I said at the beginning, I am betting the only lesson that moron will learn is that if politicians have the time to scrutinize the bill, they will "see" what Reid and majority leaders are trying to sneak in and they will balk.

[Update] Seems they have changed the wording of the Cuba provision to gain Menendez's support and they believe, once again, they have the votes they need to pass the omnibus spending bill.

Jim Manley, a spokesman for Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), joined Durbin in predicting victory in Tuesday’s procedural vote.

"Sen. Reid believes that he will have the votes tomorrow," Manley said.

Tuesday’s vote to end debate on the omnibus would be followed by a final vote on the bill itself, which is expected to pass by a wider margin.

Nelson wouldn’t be specific about the changes to the Cuba provisions, but the Florida senator said he would provide details on Tuesday. As initially proposed, the provisions would have relaxed Bush administration policies on agricultural sales and travel restrictions to the island. The overall U.S. embargo against the country would not have been affected.

This isn't the first time Reid has predicted they have the votes needed, but this time, I think they will get it passed. He can only be wrong so many times before he gets lucky and is right.