Philip Maddocks: In a show of solidarity, Republicans vote against their own legislation

Philip Maddocks

In a formidable show of solidarity, Senate Republicans on Thursday rejected their own bill in a dizzying procedural blockade that party leaders said underscored just how fiercely determined they are to stand up for their party’s principles, even if it means voting against those principles in a Democratic-controlled Senate.

“We may be in the minority, but we will not be bullied by anyone, even our own party,” said Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who added that Thursday’s vote should quiet critics who have been claiming that Republicans are simply making a practice of opposing Democratic legislative efforts.

“As near as I can tell there is not one Democratic idea in this bill,” Mr. McConnell said, noting that the measure contained many of the tax breaks and business incentives that Republicans have long championed and that the legislation had the backing of some of the party’s most reliable business allies, including the United States Chamber of Commerce and the National Federation of Independent Business. Several Republican lawmakers also helped write it.

“Just because this is good legislation for Republicans, and written by Republicans, that doesn’t mean Republicans are going to vote for it. I think the Democrats learned that lesson today,” said Mr. McConnell, who went on to hail his party’s valiant effort at trying to get the bill passed in the face of overwhelming opposition by his party.

Democrats had sought to circumvent Mr. McConnell and Republican opposition by supporting the measure, but Republican leaders filibustered after fighting for days with Democrats over the rights to the sprawling office space on the first floor of the Senate side of the Capitol that was once occupied by Sen. Robert C. Byrd.

“The majority leader has graciously given us permission to gaze enviously at the Brumidi-adorned hallway in Senator Byrd’s quarters and what I’m saying is that is not enough; he knows that,” Mr. McConnell said on the Senate floor. “In order for us to feel good about this bill, we need more. We are not expecting to be handed the senator’s office space, at least not yet, but we do expect to be able to gaze enviously at the frescoes painted by Constantino Brumidi, too.”

The demise of the business bill, which Republicans have recently started calling the-socialist-agenda-of-an-undocumented-president bill, signaled at least for now, that Democrats would fare no better on other legislation, including a scaled-back energy bill, which Republicans are threatening to support if Democrats try to oppose it

With 60 votes needed to advance the measure this week, the tally was 58 to 42, with Democrats unanimously in favor and Republicans all opposed.

The vote on the business bill followed several emotional exchanges on the floor.

“That is the tradition in the United States Senate: majority rules, unless you have less than 60 votes,” said an aide to a senior Republican afterwards. “We’re faced with a procedural impasse here because the party in power refuses to engage the minority power in a constructive way that will advance the agenda of the minority party in a fashion and means that is completely agreeable to it.”

Other Republicans made vague, Newton-esque mentions of physical laws that form the basis for classical lawmaking and describe the relationship between the forces acting on our governmental body and its motion due to those forces. The lawmakers said these forces of equal and opposing nature have been expressed in several different filibusters over the course of the past year and will continue to be expressed that way, at least until the midterms in November.

Democrats harshly criticized Mr. McConnell for blocking his party’s own measure, and warned in a statement that “if Republicans think we are being difficult about access to Senator Byrd’s space, just let them try to get close to the large hideaway on the third floor of the Capitol that was lorded over by Senator Edward M. Kennedy.”

Some Republicans said they might consider making a deal with Democrats on the legislation if the Democratic Party leadership made “meaningful concessions” on the availability of the office space of other long-serving senators who will be abandoning their Capitol suites, including Sen. Christopher J. Dodd, the Connecticut Democrat who is retiring after entering the Senate in 1981, and Sen. Arlen Specter, the Pennsylvania Democrat who joined the Senate the same year and lost a primary this year.

As for the Republican leadership, they seemed to be standing firm on this and other legislation before the Senate.

Said Mr. McConnell, “We’re not going to give in even if the Democrats do. That much I can promise you.”

Philip Maddocks can be reached at pmaddock@cnc.com.