Filibusters, food stamps and the Congressional week to come

July 15, 2013

Could this week mark the beginning of the end of the Senate filibuster?


Senate leaders Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) and Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) are barely on speaking terms because of the acrimony over Senate rules. (Kevin Deitsch/UPI)

Senate leaders have sparred repeatedly in recent weeks -- and Sunday on "Meet the Press" -- over a threatened change to the rules in the U.S. Senate. The latest verbal spat between Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) ended with Reid announcing plans to use a party-line vote to change the Senate’s rules so that Executive Branch nominees can be confirmed by a simple majority.

If senators fail to resolve their differences during a rare joint meeting in the Old Senate Chamber Monday evening, Reid plans to move ahead with a key test vote Tuesday with the nomination of Richard Cordray to lead the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and six other nominees to posts overseeing Wall Street, labor relations and the stewardship of the environment: Mark Pearce, Richard Griffin and Sharon Block to serve on the National Labor Relations Board; Fred Hochberg to lead the U.S. Export-Import Bank; Thomas E. Perez to serve as labor secretary; and Gina McCarthy to serve as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency.

The balance of the Senate's week will be determined by what goes down Monday evening. And in the midst of all the tension, the Senate is scheduled Tuesday to welcome its newest member, Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.). He'll take the seat once held by Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) -- and will rank last in Senate seniority despite 36 years in the House.

And what about the House?

House Republicans leaders are expected to settle on a plan this week to deal with federal funding for food stamps -- after approving a scaled-down farm bill last week that focused only on agricultural subsidies.

While the House sorts out what to do, the Senate is waiting -- and losing patience.

"Bottom line is, we need to go to conference," Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) said in an interview Friday. Current federal farm and food-aid policy runs out on Sept. 30 and Stabenow said she won't support "a partial extension" of the policy, "so they need to send whatever they’re doing over to us so that we can start a conference committee. I want them to send what they did over to us and then we’ll sit down and get to work."

Stabenow also said she's a bit confused by what the House is doing, because House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) initially told her they could begin hashing out a final bill this week without a House vote on food stamp money. But then House Majority Leader Eric I. Cantor (R-Va.) said last week that negotiations wouldn't begin until a food stamp bill is approved.

While House lawmakers sort out what to do on federal farm and food stamp policy, they also will focus considerable attention this week on scaling back Obamacare.

Responding to the White House's decision to delay implementation of the employer mandate for another year, Republicans plan to hold a vote Wednesday on two bills -- one to push back the employer mandate by a year and another to push back the individual mandate by the same amount of time.

Republicans, always eager to criticize the health-care reform law, have said that if the Obama administration wants to push back implementation of the law for employers, it also should push back requirements for individuals, who face equally burdensome regulations. Both bills are expected to pass -- and likely will be ignored by the Democratic-controlled Senate.

Finally, keep an eye on Cantor and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) for signs of progress on their immigration bill. The pair are  working on legislation that would establish ways for the children of undocumented immigrants to become legal residents and possibly U.S. citizens.

Details on the GOP proposal remain scant, but any such bill could help address the concerns of congressional Democrats, who insist that finding ways to address the legal status of the nation's estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants must be part of any final immigration reform package.

Follow Ed O'Keefe on Twitter: @edatpost

Ed O’Keefe is a congressional reporter with The Washington Post and covered the 2008 and 2012 presidential and congressional elections.
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