WASHINGTON - Senate Republicans threatened Wednesday to block virtually all legislation until expiring tax cuts are extended and a bill is passed to fund the federal government, vastly complicating Democratic attempts to leave their own stamp on the final days of the post-election Congress.
"While there are other items that might ultimately be worthy of the Senate's attention, we cannot agree to prioritize any matters above the critical issues of funding the government and preventing a job-killing tax hike," all 42 GOP senators wrote in a letter to Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). The 42 senators, if they hang together, are more than enough to block action on almost any item he wishes to advance.
The threat does not apply to a new arms control treaty with Russia that is pending, since it would be debated under rules that differ from those that apply to routine legislation. President Barack Obama has made ratification of the pact a top priority.
But it does threaten Democratic attempts to lift the Pentagon's ban on openly gay members of the military, a separate item to give legal status to young illegal immigrants who attend college or serve in the military, and a measure to expand first responders' collective bargaining rights.
It also could affect the campaign by New York lawmakers to win Senate passage of a $7.4-billion measure to help thousands of 9/11 first responders get health care and medical testing. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), sponsor of the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, has said she is trying to convince one GOP senator to support the measure to reach the 60-vote majority necessary to assure passage.
"Republicans have pleaded with Democrats to put aside their wish-list to focus on the things Americans want us to focus on. They've ignored us. The voters repudiated their agenda at the polls. They've ignored them. Time is running out. They're ignoring that," McConnell and Reid met Wednesday to discuss the legislative agenda, but no agreements were reached.