Senate Republicans vow to block non-budget bills

By Ben Pershing
Wednesday, March 16, 2011; 10:21 AM

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.

"I would vote to raise the debt limit if we passed - and the president signed beforehand - major, very significant spending and debt reform," he said, although he acknowledged that "I can't tell you exactly what that means" quite yet.

No green for Irish group

What ever happened to the holiday spirit?

Even with St. Patrick's Day coming Thursday, the House will vote this week on whether to cut funding for an organization that "encourages contact, dialogue and reconciliation between nationalists and unionists throughout Ireland."

The stopgap spending bill the House will take up Tuesday includes $6 billion worth of reductions, including a $17 million cut for the International Fund for Ireland.

The IFI describes itself as "an independent international organization" established by the British and Irish governments in 1986. With contributions from the United States and a few other countries, the group's mission "is to tackle the underlying causes of sectarianism and violence" on the Emerald Isle.

So with everyone preparing their green outfits, and House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) set to host the traditional St. Patrick's Day luncheon at the Capitol with President Obama and new Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny, why is a group promoting peace in Ireland getting cut off?

Because, it turns out, the group had said it didn't really want the money anymore.

In its annual report for 2009, the group's chairman wrote, "We will not be seeking any further international contributions after the end of 2010." Obama did not request funding for the group in his budget submission.

But wait - now that the Irish economy is doing so poorly and donations might be on the wane, the IFI has reversed course.

In a statement, it said "there is still much work to be done to consolidate the peace process," so the British and Irish governments would like the fund to remain, "should our international donors be in a position to offer continued support."

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