As Obama Arrives in Israel, Senate Prepares for ‘Vote-a-rama’

BY Christina Bellantoni and Terence Burlij  March 20, 2013 at 9:05 AM EST

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell; photo by T.J. Kirkpatrick/Getty Images

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and other Republicans speak to reporters Tuesday. Photo by T.J. Kirkpatrick/Getty Images.

The Morning Line

When President Barack Obama landed in Tel Aviv on Wednesday, he told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that he was glad to be abroad. “It’s good to get away from Congress,” reporters captured the president saying on the tarmac.

Perhaps that’s because 5,900 miles away, senators were settling in for a marathon session of amendments and debate over legislation to fund the government beyond March. It’s a fiscal battle fraught with drama, as lawmakers seek to include their priorities and with little agreement on what should be excluded from the across-the-board automatic budget cuts that kicked in a few weeks ago.

And once the $984 billion, six-month continuing resolution passes, negotiations are far from over, given that the Senate version is unlikely to mirror what passed the Republican-controlled House earlier this month. Plus, they’re just getting started.

This lede from David Rogers’ story in Politico says it all: “Meat, machismo and [Sen. Jerry] Moran all collided in the Senate on Tuesday, stalling action on a stopgap spending bill and threatening to push the long-awaited budget debate into the holiday recess beginning this weekend.”

Moran, a Republican from Kansas, stalled proceedings Tuesday as he argued that air traffic controllers in rural areas like in his home state should be protected from cuts. There’s also tension over funding for ranchers, Rogers reports.

Debate Tuesday also featured sparring over a missile defense system and a space shuttle program some senators say are unnecessary, and bigger-picture arguments over cuts to programs like food stamps and Head Start.

Jonathan Weisman and Annie Lowery described the continuing resolution (CR) as a “mixed blessing” for Mr. Obama, given that it will allow the Defense Department more flexibility in what gets slashed and make the sequestration cuts seem “less arbitrary.”

They write:

But the new continuing resolution might have a political impact beyond the numbers: It could reduce some of the most obvious disruptions in federal services, potentially easing the pressure that Mr. Obama had hoped would soften Republican opposition to a replacement that combined spending cuts with tax increases.

Procedural stalling tactics mean the final vote on the CR could be as late as Thursday. And with unlimited amendments allowed on both that spending legislation and the budget, the Senate is preparing for what’s known in Washington as a “vote-a-rama.”

Aides to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., expressed exasperation Tuesday, making snarky statements mocking Republicans for slowing down the process. They noted that the GOP has been criticizing the Senate for failing to pass a budget, but that the stall on the CR has prevented the chamber from getting to that debate.

“There will be no more talk of not having a budget,” Reid said Tuesday. “We’re going to have one before we leave here for recess.”

Reid threatened to hold senators over the weekend to complete work on the budget after the CR clears and before the Easter recess.

From a political perspective, Democrats are eager to fight over GOP Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget proposal, The Hill’s Mike Lillis reports. They’re saying Ryan’s plan will hurt the poor, women and minorities in a series of press conferences, floor speeches, YouTube videos and cable news interviews. It’s all designed for the Democrats’ uphill battle to win back the chamber in the fall 2014 midterm elections.

Talking Points Memo’s Sahil Kapur notes that Senate Republicans do not sound all that excited to vote on Ryan’s plan. Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, the ranking Republican on the Budget Committee, met with Ryan this week. “I wouldn’t be surprised if Ryan’s budget doesn’t come up one way or the other in this process,” Sessions said. Kapur reports that Sessions “praised the House budget chief’s work as ‘honest’ and ‘wonderful’ but said Senate Republicans ‘might have different views’ on how to move forward.”

POLLING SAME-SEX MARRIAGE

On Tuesday, the NewsHour took a close look at the shift in public opinion on gay marriage, which we examined here, one week ahead of Supreme Court arguments over Proposition 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act.

Gwen Ifill reported on the latest developments and spoke with Michael Dimock of the Pew Research Center and Greg Lewis of Georgia State University, who has studied the issue for decades.

Watch the segment here or below:

Meanwhile, Roll Call’s Emily Cahn outlines the political fight over House Republicans spending $3 million in taxpayer funds to defend DOMA during next week’s case.

And Chris Geidner details the confusion about marriage licenses in New Mexico.

LINE ITEMS

  • As Mr. Obama touched down in Tel Aviv on Wednesday morning, he declared, “It’s in our fundamental security interest to stand with Israel,” adding, “I see this visit as an opportunity to reaffirm the unbreakable bond between our two nations.” The NewsHour’s Margaret Warner is on the trip and will be reporting from the Middle East all week.

  • Former Gov. Mark Sanford captured 37 percent of the vote in Tuesday’s Republican primary battle for South Carolina’s 1st Congressional District seat. A recount Friday will determine Sanford’s opponent in the GOP runoff to be held in April. The winner of that contest will face Democratic nominee Elizabeth Colbert Busch, the sister of comedian Stephen Colbert, in the May 7 general election.

  • Reid told reporters Tuesday that the gun control legislation in his chamber would be brought to the floor without the ban on assault weapons sponsored by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. “Right now, her amendment, using the most optimistic numbers, has less than 40 votes. That’s not 60. I have to get something on the floor so we can have votes on that issue,” Reid said.

  • In Colorado on Wednesday, Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper is expected to sign new gun control measures passed by the legislature.

  • Roll Call’s Steven Dennis finds members adjusting to the reality of the sequester as the nation “shrugs” off its impacts.

  • New Jersey Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez’s friend and donor Salomon Melgen posed for photos with Mr. Obama and flew Reid on his private jet. Politico’s Ken Vogel dives in with the details.

  • Politico’s Manu Raju has an interesting story about “Democratic heavy-hitters — including Bill Clinton” who are privately working to woo another candidate into the 2014 Kentucky race against Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. Actress Ashley Judd is mounting a bid and seems to have support, but Raju reports that Clinton and others are courting Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, who does not carry the potential pitfalls that a non-politician would bring to the race.

  • Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky. will headline a major GOP dinner in Iowa. The conservative told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer Tuesday he has not made a decision on whether he will run for president in 2016.

  • The Washington Post plays the semantics game with Paul, who pointedly did not use the term “citizenship” in his immigration speech Tuesday, despite clearly endorsing the concept.

  • While the media waited for Paul to make his speech Tuesday morning, Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., spoke optimistically at a Christian Science Monitor breakfast about the Republican softening on immigration since the election. He heralded the cooperation of Ryan and the leadership of Rep. Tim Gowdy, R-S.C., chairman of the Judiciary Committee’s immigration subcommittee, for bringing witnesses before the committee that both sides could work with. Looking at Sen. Marco Rubio’s evolution, Gutierrez sees the Florida Republican having been where Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, is now on amnesty, “which gives me hope,” he said.

  • The Hill sees consensus emerging on a bipartisan House immigration deal.

  • A new automated survey from the left-leaning Public Policy Polling shows former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist leading GOP Gov. Rick Scott, 52 percent to 40 percent. Scott’s approval numbers among Democrats ticked up slightly over the last two months, during which time he announced his support for Medicaid expansion.

  • Bloomberg profiles a new tea party super PAC that wants to get involved in GOP primaries and stick a thumb in Karl Rove’s eye.

  • The Boston Globe’s Matt Viser sees tension flaring up over the Republican National Committee’s proposed changes to the presidential primary process.

  • Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren will write a book about the financial crisis and its aftermath, titled “Rigged.”

  • Organizing for Action has an event Wednesday with Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake about the impact of the sequester on schools.

  • Signifying the seriousness of the charges against Rep. Rob Andrews, D-N.J., the House Ethics Committee has formed an investigative subcommittee to look into Andrews’ use of campaign funds for personal expenses. The committee revealed that Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, is now also in their sights for potential ethics violations, which the Wall Street Journal characterizes as related to travel expenses.

  • After pressing Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli to condemn remarks by one of his financial backers comparing slavery to abortion, Democrats on Tuesday released video footage from last June of Cuccinelli speaking before the Family Foundation and saying that the country has reached the “right position” on slavery and abortion.

  • Conan O’Brien is doing a fundraiser for Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., ahead of the former comedian’s 2014 re-election bid. It’s being billed as “brunch with Conan and Al.”

  • Mr. Obama picked Louisville, Indiana, Ohio State and Florida to advance to the Final Four in his NCAA men’s bracket. In the women’s tournament he has Baylor, Connecticut, Notre Dame and California.

  • Roll Call posts its annual March Madness brackets for both men and women, broken down by congressional district:

NEWSHOUR ROUNDUP

  • Ten years after the first strikes in Iraq, we look at the lessons learned since the invasion. Judy spoke with New York Times reporter Michael Gordon and Washington Post editor Rajiv Chandrasekaran about the legacy left behind and perspective on the war. Watch that discussion here. Online, we’re collecting your experiences, impressions and viewpoints on the war and all that came with it. Participate on Twitter with #Iraq10.

  • Jeffrey Brown spoke with the National Catholic Reporter’s John Allen about the message Pope Francis sent in his inaugural mass Tuesday. You can watch that discussion here and catch more of their conservation, as well as video of the pope’s homily, here.

  • Coordinating producer Linda J. Scott and Meena Ganesan take stock of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s recent outreach to minority groups.

  • Warner blogs about Netanyahu’s weakened position in Israel.

  • For Lunch in the Lab, Jenny Marder breaks down Dennis Overbye’s New York Times piece about discovering the Higgs Boson.

TOP TWEETS

Katelyn Polantz, Meena Ganesan and politics desk assistant Simon Pathe contributed to this report.

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Questions or comments? Email Christina Bellantoni at cbellantoni-at-newshour-dot-org.

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