Bah Humbug: Senate Debates X-Mas

ABC News' Matthew Jaffe reports:

Ah, the holiday season is here, a time of giving, celebrating, and coming together… except on Capitol Hill.

Now that the Senate has passed the tax bill in a rare show of bipartisanship, the world’s greatest deliberative body seems poised to become a place of bitter partisanship, fierce divisiveness, and negative tactics. In other words, business as usual.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid plans to take up the START nuclear treaty with Russia and a massive $1.1 trillion omnibus bill that includes $8 billion of earmarks. After that, he still wants to pass the stand-alone Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell repeal and the DREAM Act. For a chamber that moves at a snail’s pace – no offense to the snail – the notion that the Senate could pass all four measures in the remaining nine days before Christmas boggles the mind.

Oh, and about that Christmas break – it might not be much of one at all.

“Christmas is a week from Saturday. I understand that,” Reid said Tuesday. “But I hope the Republicans understand it also, because we are going to complete our work no matter how long it takes in this Congress. We have to do the work of the American people. We've been stalled and stalled and stalled this whole Congress, and it's going on right now.”

That stalling is only going to get worse over the next week. Republicans led by Sen. Jim DeMint, R-SC, plan to force readings on the Senate floor of the START pact and the omnibus, an effort to force lawmakers to slow down and learn what is in the bills. That procedure is usually scrapped by lawmakers reaching a unanimous consent agreement, but not this time. Reading the omnibus could take up to 60 hours, while reading the START treaty – which has been publicly available since May – could take around 12 hours, sucking up more precious time in the waning days before Christmas.

“What a colossal waste of time,” Reid said Wednesday.

But the GOP wants to prove that Democrats are rushing massive bills through the Senate in tight timeframe, rather than allowing for a sufficient amount of debate on the various measures.

“I appreciate that the majority leader has everyone tugging on his sleeves: his Democratic counterparts in the House, his Democratic colleagues, the White House, and even occasionally some Republicans. And it's hard to say no,” said the Senate’s number-two Republican Jon Kyl Tuesday. “But at some point you can no longer with a straight face, I think, carry the proposition that we are going to do this whole long list of things before the Christmas recess. It's simply impossible to have the time to do them right.”

“It is impossible to do all of the things that the majority leader laid out without doing -- frankly, without disrespecting the institution and without disrespecting one of the two holiest of holidays for Christians and the families of all of the Senate,” he said.

Reid even raised the possibility of working during the week between Christmas and New Year’s.

“There's still Congress after Christmas. So if the Republicans think that because they can stall and stall and stall that we take a break, we're through, we're not through. Congress ends on January 4th.”

If the possibility of working on Christmas Eve didn’t already have Republicans fuming, then the chance of losing their post-Christmas break surely did. Kyl said the Senate should simply pass a funding bill to keep the government running once the latest continuing resolution runs out on Saturday – and then go home.

“Is there anything that's absolutely necessary beyond that, especially with a lame-duck Congress, some of whose members have been defeated, and then talk about being here between Christmas and New Year's or right up to January 3rd, when the new members take over? I think that would be extraordinary, and anything that were to be done during that period of time would not have the respect of the American people,” Kyl said.

“We ought to pass the tax legislation and keep the lights on around here. Everything else can wait,” railed Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell Wednesday.

So to recap, Republicans say Democrats are disrespecting Christmas, disrespecting the Senate, and disrespecting the voters. Democrats say Republicans have stalled all year long – and that it would be an affront to voters for them to leave now with so much work still incomplete.

Happy holidays from Capitol Hill!

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