Senate Republicans vow to block non-budget bills

By Ben Pershing
Tuesday, March 15, 2011; 12:13 PM

The Senate has a much-deserved reputation for being "deliberative," and if some Republicans have their way, the chamber may move even slower in the coming months.

Impatient with the pace of budget talks, 10 Republican senators led by David Vitter (La.) sent a letter to Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) last week making clear that they think any bill that would not significantly cut spending or reform the federal budget is unworthy of the chamber's time, particularly with a vote looming on whether to raise the federal debt ceiling.

"We therefore are notifying you of our intention to object to the consideration of any legislation that fails to directly address this crisis in a meaningful way," the group wrote. "Our objections would be withheld if the Senate agrees to dedicate significant floor time to debate this issue well in advance of the federal government reaching our statutorily mandated debt limit."

Reid and his fellow Democrats don't need to be told that spending issues are paramount. The Senate is waiting for the House to pass its next continuing resolution - a measure that would keep the government open for three more weeks - and there is no question that fiscal matters will dominate the agenda ahead.

Some non-spending items will still move forward; the Senate voted Monday to approve a District Court judicial nominee. But coming barely a month after Senate leaders struck a bipartisan deal to limit the use of the filibuster, Vitter's move may fray whatever procedural comity briefly existed.

On Thursday, Reid said he was "disappointed" that he had to file cloture on a small-business bill - meaning that 60 votes would be needed to proceed after a 30-hour wait - because Republicans objected to moving forward more quickly.

(Republicans said they had other procedural objections to the bill unrelated to the budget.)

"We were going to have a new day in the Senate," Reid said on the floor. "I think it is really too bad."

In an interview Friday, Vitter explained what motivated him to write the letter.

"It's just the passage of time with so little substantive debate on budget and spending reform on the Senate floor so far," he said. "We have these big deadlines coming up . . . and we need to act on serious spending and budget reform before that."

If last year's health-care reform debate seemed like a marathon, just wait: Vitter said he thinks "many weeks" will be needed "to properly debate" budget reform.

Unlike some conservatives, Vitter said he is willing to support increasing the federal debt ceiling - but with a large string attached.

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