Tuesday, March 12, 2013 | 3:07 p.m.
WASHINGTON — Sen. Harry Reid’s attempt to play ball with the House on an upcoming budget deadline is being stymied by a small band of Senate Republicans, and the majority leader is not pleased.
“Just when you think it can’t get worse, it gets worse,” Reid said Tuesday. “Here we are on the eve of doing something together...and just one or two people do everything they can to throw a monkey wrench into everything we do.”
Reid was in a meeting between Senate Democrats and President Barack Obama — the first of four meetings the president is holding with members of Congress this week to talk about plans about how to approach the deficit, the budget and offset sequestration — when he heard that Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., had put a hold on legislation to fund the government through the rest of the fiscal year.
“Who else?” Reid said exasperatedly to reporters, emerging from the meeting.
Coburn has been known to place holds on bills before.
Coburn single-handedly prevented several public lands bills from moving through the Senate at the end of last year — including a handful of measures to green-light land swaps in Nevada — because “I just don’t believe we should be giving the federal government any more land,” he said at the time.
This time, Coburn’s objection is that the Senate is moving too quickly through a budget to keep the government funded past March 27, the date when the government’s spending authority runs out and across-the-board sequestration cuts fully kick in.
Cognizant of that approaching date, Senate Budget Committee leaders drafted a bipartisan continuing resolution to fund the government, largely based on a bill the House passed to do the same last week.
When they presented it to Reid on Monday, he tried to expedite the legislation through the Senate, promising lawmakers they would have ample time to present amendments to the bill.
Nevada Sen. Dean Heller, for example, said he planned to introduce an amendment to make the so-called No Budget, No Pay Act — a measure that cuts lawmakers’ pay if they miss budget deadlines — permanent. Congress included it in a short-term funding bill it passed earlier this year.
Coburn objected to the process continuing Tuesday afternoon.
“We got this bill last night at 9 o’clock, a 500-page bill,” Coburn said. “One of the reasons we’re $17 trillion in debt is that people don’t read the bills.”
Coburn said he wanted more time.
But Reid retorted that if the Senate waited much longer, lawmakers wouldn’t have enough time to present their amendments, or he could take away their scheduled two-week vacation around Easter.
“The vast majority of this bill is identical to what the House already passed. He and his staff and the senator from Oklahoma have had days and days to look this over,” Reid said, repeatedly pausing for dramatic effect and throwing up his hands. “The senator from Oklahoma seems to have a problem...It’s not our fault we’re trying to get a bill to fund the government.”