It's August and that means Senate Democrats have only a few days left on their legislative agenda before they head home for a month-long recess. With the bulk of Republicans against them on key matters, it could be another fruitless week in the upper chamber, at least as far as voters are concerned.
The economy is still the number one item that seems to be influencing midterm voters. So, the spending bill in the Senate scheduled for a vote at 5:45 P.M. this evening--which would extend $10 billion to prevent teacher layoffs and another $16.1 billion to help states with Medicaid funding--is one of the Democrats' top legislative priorities this week. The bill is fully paid for, dismissing the usual criticism from Republicans that Democrats are spending too much against the nation's deficit. Yet, the bill's offsets include $9 billion in revenue from closing foreign tax credit loopholes, a provision that has drawn opposition since it was included in a larger jobs package earlier this year.
If the Republican minority blocks the bill, as they did with last week's campaign finance legislation, Democrats could use the bill's defeat as campaign fodder, further characterizing Republicans as the "party of no." State officials have warned that without the funding extension, states will be forced to make significant reductions in public sector jobs, such as law enforcement and social services. "Democrats this week will fight to help our cops, firefighters, teachers, and small businesses, while Republicans will ignore the needs of hardworking families by fighting for the corporate special interests and Big Oil," says Deirdre Murphy, spokesperson for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.
The Senate will also continue discussion from last week on the small business lending bill, though Democratic leadership does not yet have a vote planned.
While it may not resonate with undecided voters quite as much as job creation, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, as early as today, could file for a vote on oil-spill-related energy legislation, making way for a cloture vote on Wednesday. Following the passage of the Consolidated Land, Energy, and Aquatic Resources Act, or CLEAR Act, in the House on Friday, the Senate too hopes to address drilling safety regulations before the break, yet the prospects for passing the bill aren't promising. Republicans and a couple of Democrats, such as Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu and Alaska Sen. Mark Begich, worry that the legislation may hurt the oil industry more than it would help to address another catastrophe. Landrieu, in particular, has asked that her fellow Democrats reconsider lifting completely the liability cap for oil companies--now set at $75 million--which she believes would inhibit smaller oil production companies from entering the market due to high insurance costs. Without the support of these Democrats, it is very unlikely the bill could pass this week.
But there is some good news for Reid and the Democrats. They are expected to achieve at least one major goal before the recess: the confirmation of President Obama's Supreme Court nominee, Elena Kagan. Already, five Republicans--Maine Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, South Carolina Sen. Lindsay Graham, Indiana Sen. Dick Lugar, and New Hampshire Sen. Judd Gregg--have committed their support for the U.S. solicitor general. A lone Democrat, Sen. Ben Nelson from Nebraska, says he will vote against Kagan's confirmation in a final vote, saying his constituents are concerned with her lack of experience as a judge. Ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee Sen. Jeff Sessions from Alabama has spoken out against the Democrats' efforts to confirm her this week, arguing that members in his party will want more time to comment on whether Kagan is in fact right for the job. Nevertheless, Democrats plan to move forward on a vote, likely between Wednesday and Friday.
If there's time left on the schedule this week, Reid's office also plans to address bills on child nutrition and food safety and will ask for Republican consent to move ahead on a bill to compensate minority farmers.