by RonK, Seattle
"My, you folks are in early today!" said the cafeteria lady to the congresscritter. The House pulled an all-nighter Sunday, escaping for holiday break after 6 a.m. the next morning and leaving a sleighload of take-it-or-leave-it legislative presents for their friends in the Senate.
Defense Appropriations became a must-pass Christmas tree -- festooned with ANWR drilling, Katrina relief, LIHEAP funding, and pharma product liability protection. Most of this language was inserted after both bodies had signed the conference report -- an occasional expedient in case of bicameral, bipartisan agreement, but a major affront to parliamentary process (and the trust that sustains it).
And then things got interesting. [UPDATE: And 8 hrs later, more interesting. See below, and running comments.]
Defense Authorization escaped the worst, as House Armed Services Chair Duncan Hunter (R-CA) failed in a bid to morph a favorite chunk of national parkland into a military VIP shooting gallery.
The Work, Marriage, and Family Promotion Reconciliation Act of 2005 became a budgetary and ideological pincushion -- part of a "deficit reduction" agenda that increases the deficit, mostly by slashing social spending. (Tax cuts sold separately.)
Points of order were sustained to knock a few ornaments off the Reconciliation bill, which passed on Cheney's tie-breaker but now goes back to the House for enactment as modified.
The House has gone home for the holidays, but a skeleton crew could move the Senate version unanimously at a pro-forma session Thursday. That's IF the repackaged package satisfies all the horsetrading that got it passed Monday (212-206). If those fights have to be re-fought, it'll be one lo-o-ong Winter's night for the 435.
PATRIOT Act renewal failed a cloture vote earlier in the week, and the current White House posture is to go off and pout rather than accepting a proffered 3-month extension.
The major pyrotechnic display was the cloture fight on Defense Appropriations, where Alaska's Ted Stevens (R-AK) held "Support Our Troops" funding hostage to "Drill My Tundra".
Dem's caucus Energy lead Maria Cantwell (D-WA) held her troops in line to block cloture. Per long-standing tradition, Dem's Inouye and Akaka (HI) sided with the Alaska delegation, as did Mary Landrieu (LA) for oil and Katrina interests, and Ben Nelson (NE) of red state necessity.
Republican's Chafee (RI) and DeWine (OH) crossed over to our side -- and unnecessarily crossed their own leadership in the process. Hmmm.
This was first-termer Cantwell's first big showdown win, after some agonizingly close and star-crossed defeats on ANWR, conservation targets and electric utility regulation. A big win -- and she'll pay a big price.
Stevens is Appropriations Chair, he can make anyone pay, and he never forgets. These two have already crossed swords on Puget Sound oil tanker safety, and most memorably on whether or not to swear in a panel of oil exec's (some of whom, apparently, misspoke a bit in their testimony).
The failed cloture vote -- which left the GOP game plan in seeming disarray -- was followed by a Quorum Call (still in progress, five hours going on six at this writing).
What happens next? I dunno. Frist is no brain surgeon, Bush/Cheney are inflexible, and Stevens can go ballistic -- maybe even atomic, per Kagro's Suitcase Nuclear Option scenario.
[UPDATE: 8 hours out, and they return with a deal, Stevens goes off like a Cascades volcano, in what sounds like a "Good-Bye Cruel World" speech, but I read as an "I Know Where You Live" speech. ANWR is out, $29B Gulf Coast relief is still in ... also there's a 6 month extension agreed to the PATRIOT Act.]
Wherever you find yourselves, and whatever happens next, please have a Soulful Solstice, and a Merry Judeo-Christmas, and take yourselves out for dim sum to put the Kwan back in Kwanzaa and the Chan back in Chanukkah!