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GOP Preparing to Block Dems Agenda, Parties Play Chicken With Lame Duck
With little progress on any of the must-pass provisions for the lame-duck session of Congress, Republicans are preparing for a showdown over the still-swollen agenda.
FOX has obtained a letter being circulated to Senate Republicans that calls for a filibuster blockade of any legislation not directly related to time-sensitive votes on taxes and spending.
All 42 Republican senators have signed on to the plan, which would effectively end Democratic hopes to push through controversial measures like allowing gays in the military to express their sexualities and offering amnesty to illegal immigrants who attend college or volunteer for the military.
But, Senate Republican aides say they are confident that the message is getting through in their caucus.
"We are now less than a month away from a huge across-the-board tax increase for every American and just days away from running out of operating funds for the federal government," one aide told Power Play. "It doesn't seem unreasonable to insist that Democrats focus on those things instead of the remaining items on their failed liberal agenda."
So far, the only noteworthy pieces of legislation to pass have been a reorganization of the Food and Drug Administration and a $4.55 billion payout for black farmers and would-be farmers and American Indians who claim discrimination in federal funding.
Lawmakers also passed a one-month extension of the "doc fix" that prevents cuts to Medicare approved 15 years ago from going into effect, but without action the rates paid to doctors for treating those insured by the entitlement program will plummet on January 1.
Some in both parties hoped that the bipartisan summit at the White House on Tuesday might provide a plan of attack for dealing with the Number 1 concern for Republicans and Democrats - the expiration of current tax rates at the end of the month. But the only concrete decision to come from the meeting was a decision to have leaders of both parties in both houses of Congress appoint negotiators on tax codes.
It's not just Republicans who are concerned about the way the lame-duck session became a dumping ground for campaign promises and wish-list legislation.
Sen. Michael Bennet was caught on a hot mic in the Senate ripping the lame-duck agenda, which was set exclusively by his party, as "rigged" and done without a discussion among members.
Prospects for the agenda outside of taxes and spending were already pretty dim.
While the Republican letter doesn't deal with the President's START treaty, Senate ratification of the nuclear agreement with Russia seems unlikely given the Korean nuclear threat and GOP concerns that the deal was negotiated in tandem with a U.S. pledge to limit our missile defense capabilities.
(After the Wikileaks revelation of Defense Secretary Robert Gates calling the Russian government in secret diplomatic cables an "oligarchy" rather than a democracy, the failure of Obama's accommodating missile treaty likely marks the end of any "reset" period with Russia.)
The other priorities for President Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, repealing "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" and passing the DREAM Act immigration measure, are still viable, but only as amendments to other must-pass legislation.
Aside from the tax rates, lawmakers must pass this week a continuing resolution to keep the government functioning. Election-harried Democrats opted against producing a budget at all this year, preferring to punt questions on tax rates and spending until after Nov. 2. So, the government relies on a series of patches to keep operating. Similarly, lawmakers must vote on a supplemental appropriation to fund military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Those measures are the ripest for the addition of the gay and immigrant measures, though Senate Democrats have said they now prefer to bring DREAM out as a stand-alone bill.
The filibuster threat increases pressure on the White House, already under fire from the press and some members of the president's party to offer a more realistic agenda for the remaining weeks of the year.
For example, if Congress doesn't act on the tax cuts, it means Republicans will be in position to enact their own, retroactive plan on January 1 without having to make any concessions to Democratic demands for upper income earners.
"The Democrats know they are running out of time," said another Senate GOP aide. "We're just trying to make things a little simpler for them."
Thanks to today's Power Play crew: Trish Turner, Wes Barrett, Heidi Noonan and Jason Donner.
The Day in Quotes
"We have two parties for a reason. There are real philosophical differences."
-- President Obama on his meeting with congressional leaders.
"We had a very nice meeting today. Of course, we've had a lot of very nice meetings. The question is, can we find the common ground?"
-- House Speaker designee John Boehner (R-OH) on the meeting of congressional leaders at the White House.
"It's all rigged. The whole conversation is rigged. The fact that we don't get to a discussion before the break about what we're going to do in the lame duck is just rigged."
-- Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO) caught on an open microphone in the Senate complaining about the way the agenda for the lame duck session is set.
"You'll have a lot to cover."
-- White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs responding to an incredulous Jake Tapper of ABC News who asked if the president really thought Democrats could pass emergency federal funding, unemployment insurance extensions, a repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," the DREAM Act, an extension of the Bush era tax rates, the New START missile treaty with Russia and more in the next 18 days of a lame duck session.
"What worries me is the mixing of diplomatic tasks with downright espionage. You cross a border ... if diplomats are encouraged to gather personal information about some people."
-- U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon discussing the Wikileaks revelation that State Department diplomats were asked to gather DNA samples, iris scans, credit card numbers, fingerprints and other personal information about world leaders.
"Let me be clear. This is not saber rattling."
-- Attorney General Eric Holder to reporters threatening legal action against Wikileaks boss Julian Assange.
"The far left and the far right have hired auditoriums to terrorize their minions. They're going to rip this thing to shreds, and do it with zeal."
"While a repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell will likely, in the short term, bring about some limited and isolated disruption to unit cohesion and retention, we do not believe this disruption will be widespread or long lasting."
-- Pentagon report on the repeal of the law forbidding gay service members from openly expressing their sexualities. Congressional hearings on the report begin today.
"I respect people's privacy, and so we have a system that works. Homosexuals can serve in the military, but it should be to me about respecting each other's privacy."
-- Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC) to reporters on repealing "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."
"Now, in my years here, I've learned that the appreciation of the Senate's role in our national debate is an acquired taste."
-- Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT) in his farewell speech urging his colleagues not to change the rules allowing filibusters.
"This is an outrageous use of taxpayer money and an obvious attempt to offend Christians during the Christmas season."
-- Brad Dayspring, spokesman for incoming House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (D-VA) on a new exhibition of gay art at the National Portrait Gallery that included a depiction of a crucified Jesus crawling with ants.
"It is really unthinkable that anyone would use the guise of public safety and helping victims of a tragedy like Hurricane Katrina as a calculating way to inappropriately obtain taxpayer dollars."
-- Rep Darrell Issa (R-CA) to FOX on a new inspector general's report showing that ACORN improperly obtained $450,000 in Hurricane Katrina relief funds.
"I believe I have an important responsibility to the state of Illinois and the people I represent to direct federal dollars into projects critically important for our state and its future."
-- Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) in a statement celebrating the defeat of a Senate earmark ban.
"What happened to our nation's African American farmers and native Americans was wrong, and we have made it right."
-- Rep. James Clyburn (D-SC) heralding the Senate approval of more than $4.55 billion in payouts to black farmers, blacks who attempted to farm, and American Indian tribes.
"Today we ended sad chapters in Illinois history. Our state leaders tried to sell this seat, and then they blocked a special election to fill it, but the court, the law and the people of Illinois won."
-- Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) in remarks after being sworn in.
"I think she's very, very, very competitive. Obviously it all depends on how we conduct our campaigns. She is an incredible force in the Republican Party. I'm proud of her. I am proud of the entire family."
-- Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) on "Hannity" discussing Sarah Palin's presidential prospects.
"The federal government's job is to keep the American people safe. No one disputes that. But now, we're going a step too far, it seems, and people are considered guilty rather than being considered innocent."
-- Rep. Michelle Bachman (R-MN) on FOX Business' "Freedom Watch" about new TSA security measures.
And Now, A Word From Charles
"I interpret what the president has done by allowing others to do the negotiating on a decision that ultimately he makes and he ought to make in a minute-and-a-half as a way to distance himself and set up a compromise where he accepts the fact that the rates are extended and it's probably for a couple of years."