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Senate plans weekend work to ratify START, pass spending bill

The Hill | December 15, 2010
By Alexander Bolton

The Senate plans to work through the weekend to ratify the New START Treaty and a trillion-dollar spending bill to keep the government running.

The upper chamber is expected to vote on final passage of the tax package shortly after noon Wednesday, which will clear the way for debate to begin on the nuclear arms treaty and the 1,924-page spending bill.

“We’ll see how things go with this treaty, but it’s clear — I have spoken on many occasions with the Republican leader — we’re going to be in session this Sunday,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said Wednesday morning. “There is work to do.”

Reid hopes to consider a $1.108 trillion omnibus spending bill simultaneously with START and plans to put them on separate, parallel tracks, according to Democratic aides.

But Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) is causing a delay by forcing both measures to be read aloud, which could eat up hours of the remaining lame-duck Congress.

The readings could take seven to 12 hours to verbalize the START Treaty, while the omnibus could take 40 to 60 hours, according to a spokesman for DeMint.

Reid said in a floor speech Wednesday that he "hoped" DeMint would not force a full reading, calling the move a "colossal waste of time."

Reid also held out the possibility the Senate could adjourn for the year by the middle of next week after voting on a House-passed version of the DREAM Act, which would allow the children of illegal immigrants to gain permanent legal residency if they meet certain conditions.

“We hope that we can complete what we have to do here a day or two after Saturday,” Reid said Wednesday morning. “When we complete the things that I have just mentioned, we’re going to have to have a vote on the DREAM Act.”

On Tuesday, Reid raised the prospect that senators would return to Washington between Christmas and Jan. 4 to finish legislative work.

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) blasted Democrats for trying to rush the massive spending bill through the Senate in the days before Christmas, comparing it to last year’s healthcare reform debate.

“It’s being dropped on us with just a few days to go before the Christmas break, ensuring that no one in Congress has a chance to examine it thoroughly before the vote,” McConnell said on the Senate floor.

“The voters made an unambiguous statement last month: They don’t like the wasteful spending, they don’t want the Democrat healthcare bill, and they don’t want lawmakers rushing staggeringly complex, staggeringly expensive bills through Congress without any time for people to study what’s buried in the details,” McConnell said.

Meanwhile, the Senate will begin debate on President Obama’s tax package 11 a.m. Wednesday. The package is expected to pass. Starting at noon, senators will vote on motions to consider amendments sponsored by Sens. DeMint, Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).
DeMint has offered an amendment that would extend the Bush-era tax cuts permanently. The pending package extends those tax cuts for only two years.

Coburn has offered an amendment to offset the cost of extending federal unemployment benefits for 13 months. Those extended benefits will cost the treasury $56.5 billion. 

Sanders has offered an amendment that would allow the Bush tax cuts to expire for the top 2 percent highest income earners and devote new revenues to deficit reduction and a $70 billion, two-year investment in infrastructure projects. The Sanders proposal would also replace the pending payroll tax cut with the Make Work Pay tax credit and would set the estate tax at 45 percent for inheritances of more than $3.5 million

To vote on those amendments, the Senate must suspend the rules — a 67-vote threshold, under an agreement set by Senate leaders.

— Michael O’Brien contributed to this article.