Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., would rather spend the weekend debating a $17 million “Captive Primate Act” and embarrassing Republican Sen. Tom Coburn, Okla., than working on energy policy to alleviate pain at the pump.
If Reid has it his way, he’ll only allow two amendments to the Democratic energy bill, designed to limit speculation currently on the Senate floor to one amendment for the Democrats and one for the Republicans. News reports about the number of amendments Reid will allow say that Democrats are “scrambling” to avoid votes on offshore drilling.
To divert attention away from energy exploration, Reid wants to throw the Senate into a weekend session to vote on what he’s calling the Coburn "omnibus”—a 398-page compilation of 35 different bills Coburn has opposed worth at least $11 billion. The mutant bill also includes a slew of low-priority items like the Captive Primate Act and a $12 million earmark for a botanical garden in Maryland.
Reid said the GOP would have a choice to pass these bills “or continue to stand beside a colleague or two intent on blocking virtually everything.” Reid singled out Coburn again in a news conference last week by telling reporters, "For those of you who may not know this, you cannot negotiate with Coburn. It's just something that you learn over the years is a waste of time."
“This is a [Democratic] leadership that says you will be with me, or you will suffer consequences,” Coburn told conservative bloggers on a conference call late Wednesday morning. Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., another conservative stalwart and likely the “other colleague” Reid was referring to, was also on the call.
Coburn and his Republican allies are planning to use an arsenal of legislative tactics to focus on energy and avoid the Coburn omnibus. “Senator Reid has packed this bill with things that will be hard for Republicans to vote against,” DeMint said. “He’s testing the will and the character of the Republican party. If Republicans allow this to go through they are basically giving up their rights as a minority party to have a fair shake in any debate.”
Andrew Roth, a representative from the conservative group Club For Growth, was on the call and noted the Club For Growth would be “key voting” the omnibus if it comes up for a vote.
Coburn and DeMint both say the GOP would rather spend their weekend debating energy than engaging in a petty stand off with Reid. Republicans would like to offer amendments to lift the congressional ban on offshore drilling, increase nuclear power and open the Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, among other things.
"For us to do anything but address this issue [energy] in a comprehensive way and [Reid] trying to get off it tells you something - he’s not leading for America, he’s leading for political power…. What is best for the country is to get us out of the $700 billion we send to the people who hate us every year and to start producing those resources here!” Coburn said.
Most Democrats are opposed to any expansion in domestic energy production and would instead prefer to put more federal money towards alternative energy, although a recent surge in public opinion in favor of drilling is causing some moderate Democrats to waffle.
Reid’s hardline Democrat counterpart in the House, Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., recently told CNN she has “no plans” to allow any votes on offshore drilling, despite that a recent CNN/Opinion research poll showed more than 74 percent of Americans supported lifting the ban on offshore drilling.