A bill to extend dozens of non-controversial tax breaks for families and companies failed spectacularly in the Senate on Thursday, after Democrats rejected a Republican request to allow debate and votes on amendments to the bill.
Sixty votes were needed to advance the bill, but it only received 53, as Republicans voted against it to protest the lack of any work on amendments.
Republicans have argued for several years now that Democrats are working to strip away the rights of the minority. But the argument has reached a fever pitch over the last few months, and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Thursday accused Democrats of destroying minority rights that had once been highly valued by both parties.
“Today, we have a Democratic majority that’s turned this body literally on its head,” McConnell said. “Instead of preserving the Senate’s prerogatives, they’ve systematically weakened or destroyed them altogether.”
“It’s a gag order on the American people that we represent,” he said of the Democratic efforts to block all work on amendments.
“Why are Washington Democrats so afraid of a free and open exchange of ideas. What are they afraid of?!” McConnell bellowed. He then made a formal request that amendments to the bill from both parties be considered in the days ahead.
As expected, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) argued that Republicans were responsible for gridlock in the Senate, and said McConnell himself has said he is proud of this accomplishment.
“The self-pronounced guardian of gridlock just gave his little presentation,” Reid said after McConnell spoke. “That’s what the Republican leader calls himself, and that is a good name that he got for himself.”
Reid said he would be fine with letting Republicans and Democrats on the Senate Finance Committee work on possible amendments, but ended by saying “I object” to McConnell’s request for amendments.
The fight over procedure has ground most the Senate’s legislative work to a halt. The Senate has been able to approve Executive Branch nominees, but only because Senate Democrats unilaterally changed the rules so that only a simple majority — which means only Democrats — are needed to advance these nominations.
Last week, a similar procedural vote took place on a non-controversial bill aimed at boosting energy efficiency in homes and businesses. Republicans asked that the Senate consider five energy-related amendments dealing with coal and other issues, but Democrats rejected that proposal.
Reid blamed Republicans for that failure as well, and said the GOP and changed its mind after first seeking a vote on a bill to authorize the Keystone XL pipeline. Reid said last week that Republicans were acting like “little pigs in a greased pig contest.”
Earlier this week, McConnell charged that Democrats were using the Senate floor as a “campaign studio,” and are no longer interested in legislation if it means having to consider one GOP amendment.