It looks like the Jim DeMint's of the world got their way on the Senate passing a spending bill before this session is over. I guess the Republicans finally had enough of being mocked for their hypocrisy on earmarks and worrying about primary challengers. But first and foremost, the Republicans like DeMint are just doing their best to run out the clock on the last hours of the lame duck session of Congress so the Democrats can get as little passed as possible.
In a dramatic twist played out on the floor of the Senate, Majority Leader Harry Reid conceded Thursday night he lacked the votes to bring up a nearly $1.1 trillion spending bill designed to fund the federal government for the rest of the current fiscal year.
Reid, D-Nevada, accused Republicans of withdrawing previously pledged support for the bill, and said he would work with the Senate Republican leader to draft a short-term spending measure that would keep the government running beyond Saturday, when the current spending authorization resolution expires.
The panel on AC 360 discussed Harry Reid's decision to pull the bill and the Republicans hypocrisy on earmarks with coming out against it.
COOPER: We begin, though, tonight with the breaking news -- tonight, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid yanking a $1.2 trillion -- yes, trillion- dollar -- package to keep the government running, because he says he no longer had the Republican support to pass it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: I was told within the last 24 hours that we had bipartisan support to pass this bill. Many told -- I shouldn't say that -- many is a word that's too large, but a number of Republican senators told me that they'd like to see it pass.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Well, Republican -- reportedly, a number of GOP senators reneged on their pledge to support the bill, which contained about $8 billion in earmarks.
In any case, "Keeping Them Honest," the work on this and other critical legislation has been consumed by procedural wrangling and political game-playing -- the chief example today, preparations to accommodate a demand of Republican Jim DeMint of South Carolina.
He asked that the entire bill, nearly 2,000 pages of it, be read out loud before a vote could be held. Now, had that happened tonight, we'd be showing you live pictures right now of one of a team of Senate pages doing that job, which was supposed to take about two days and nights nonstop.
Instead, Senator Reid yanked the bill. So, instead of wasting two days reading the bill, they all ended up wasting one day today fighting over it. Senator DeMint, by the way, is the one that called working until Christmas disrespectful and sacrilegious, and he's made no bones about not wanting to do the budget bill or anything in the lame-duck session, telling FOX News about the START treaty -- quote -- "We're trying to run out the clock until the reinforcements get here in January."
He wanted that readout loud into the record, too, even though the Senate's been considering it for months, just like the spending bill that was dropped tonight, just like the DREAM Act, the bill to compensate 9/11 first-responders, the defense authorization bill and more, all before the Senate for months, all crammed into the final few weeks, all being wrangled over and delayed again and again.
In a recent Gallup poll, only 13 percent of Americans said they approve of the job Congress is doing.
Our own viewers have been taking a dim view. I want to read you one of many comments on the blog we got last night about how many fewer days senators and Congress members work than the average Americans. That's what we talked about last night, their complaints about having to work through the holidays.
Arnold Kintu (ph) writes: "These people get first-class benefits, and they're sitting there complaining about benefits? How about those families who lost their jobs and don't have health care, jobs or money to enjoy their Christmas?"
And this one from Maria in North Olmsted, Ohio: "As a nurse, I have worked 50 percent of all holidays for 38 years. Thanks for 'Keeping Them Honest' in Washington."
We should point out that Senator DeMint was the star of tonight's game-playing, but there has been plenty of blame to go around on both sides of the aisle. What's amazing, though, is how many politicians on both sides of the aisle can stand up, that it's not -- that -- and -- that it's when they're not playing games and speak out against -- wait for it -- all the game-playing.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), HOUSE MINORITY LEADER: The political games have already started.
REP. PATRICK MURPHY (D), PENNSYLVANIA: Enough with the games. Enough with playing politics.
REP. KEVIN BRADY (R), TEXAS: Here we are, playing political games.
REP. GINNY BROWN-WAITE (R), FLORIDA: Stop wasting time.
BRADY: We're wasting time.
SEN. MICHAEL BENNET (D), COLORADO: What's with all the political games that everybody's playing?
SEN. BOB CORKER (R), TENNESSEE: I hope that very soon, we will move away from these political games.
SEN. ROLAND BURRIS (D), ILLINOIS: Thanks to the same old political games.
REP. ANN KIRKPATRICK (D), ARIZONA: Politicians playing games.
SEN. JOHN CORNYN (R), TEXAS: The same old broken game of politics.
KRISTI NOEM (R), SOUTH DAKOTA CONGRESSWOMAN-ELECT: Putting the games aside and doing the right thing.
BOEHNER: Stop the games.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Well, joining me now to talk about what's been happening tonight and what's been going on in Washington, Erick Erickson, editor in chief of RedState.com, senior political analyst Gloria Borger, and Steve Kornacki of Salon.com.
Erick, were you surprised Senator Reid decided to drop the spending bill tonight?
ERICK ERICKSON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: No, not really. I mean, this has been a game of political brinkmanship for a while. There goes that word again.
You know, this will be the first Congress since 1974 that hasn't passed a budget. They have been doing these continuing resolutions. And, as we see tonight, they didn't need to get this omnibus through. They could have done a continuing resolution. And I assume pretty soon they will figure out that "Monopoly" is much more fun to play than Congress.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: But you...
COOPER: Gloria, does Senator Reid look weak tonight?
BORGER: No. You know, he did what he had to do because he didn't have the votes.
But, honestly, this -- this omnibus spending bill was like a bunch of alcoholics about to go into, you know, Alcoholics Anonymous and saying, OK, one last drink before the new folks come into town, and we're going to have to cut spending.
BORGER: And I think they decided, at the very least, Anderson, that the optics of all of this looked so bad for all of them, that they ought to just try and deal with it, pass a continuing resolution, and go away when their work is done, but take this out of the picture.
COOPER: You think, Steve, this is a sign of the power of the Tea Party movement?
STEVE KORNACKI, SALON.COM: Absolutely. I think, tonight, you're seeing not so much the implications of the November election, in which Republicans won big, but all of the primaries that came before November, in which one Republican incumbent after another, in which one Republican establishment figure after another was taken out by a Tea Party base that hates any type of compromise with the Democrats.
And one of the symbols of that compromise has been earmarks. And so you've got this bill in which, you know, $8 billion of it is earmarks. That's about like, you know, less than 1 percent of the entire bill.
KORNACKI: But that became the symbol of what this represents. And so every Republican, you know, in the Senate looked at this and said, you know, look at Mike Castle in Delaware. Look at what happened in Nevada, look at what happened in Alaska in primaries this year, where establishment figures were beaten.
Do I want to be the next person to face that kind of a primary challenge because I voted for this bill, because I voted for earmarks? Much easier to join the Republican resistance.
BORGER: So, you had this bizarre situation where you had people who had earmarks in this bill coming out and saying they were opposing their own earmarks.
ERICKSON: Yes, it really was just...
ERICKSON: ... a comedy of errors coming out of Washington with this.
I mean, the Republicans had to know, after voting for the earmark ban, that their earmarks were going to come out in this legislation.
ERICKSON: And, you know, God bless Jim DeMint for pulling this stunt this afternoon. It worked.
COOPER: But, Erick, I mean, what's...
COOPER: This is probably a naive question, but, I mean, when it comes down to it, what's wrong with letting a bill come up for a vote? I mean, regardless of which party opposes it, isn't that the core principle of democracy, whether...
ERICKSON: No, in the Senate.
COOPER: ... whether it's the tax deal or don't ask, don't tell or whatever?
ERICKSON: No, the Senate is not definitely not a democracy, by any stretch of the imagination. It takes 60 votes to do almost anything.
This is the way, and, again, using the word, the game in the Senate the played. You have got to understand the rules to get things done. And it doesn't matter that the majority have rights. The Senate was designed to be this great saucer to cool everything down and slow it down. Not ideologically -- I hate to use the word -- but the Senate is a very conservative institution.
BORGER: But I also think Jim DeMint had another agenda here, when he was talking about reading this bill over a couple of days, and that is to delay...
BORGER: ... what -- whatever is before the Congress. And there -- as you pointed out, Anderson, earlier, there are some very important things before the Congress, not the least of which is the START treaty, don't ask, don't tell, the DREAM Act, and on and on.
And if you run out the time, then guess what? You can't get to it.
COOPER: So, Steve, is this just the vision of the future? I mean, this is what the next two years is going to look like?
Well, I mean, one thing I would say, though, is if you look at don't ask, don't tell, and you look at this as part of the strategy to delay don't ask, don't tell, I don't think it's going to work. I think don't ask, don't tell will be repealed. The vote will be taken this weekend.
COOPER: You think it will come up, it will happen this weekend?
KORNACKI: Yes. I think don't ask, don't tell is going to be repealed. I don't think the DREAM Act, I don't think that is going to be enacted.
But I think you are going to come out of this lame-duck session with don't ask, don't tell repealed. I think it's more likely than not at this point.
COOPER: Gloria, do you -- do you agree with that?
BORGER: I -- well, no, I think -- well, I'm not sure. I think there's some real worry among high-level Democrats that the Republicans could hold don't ask, don't tell hostage to the -- to the START treaty.
You know, at the end of a session, this is what happens. And they could say, well, OK, if you want START, maybe we will give you START, but we certainly don't want to give you don't ask, don't tell. So, those things are currently in play right now.
ERICKSON: That's exactly what I'm hearing, is that -- that several of the Republicans are basically offering the president a choice, take START or take -- don't take don't ask, don't tell.
ERICKSON: You can't have both.
BORGER: But he's going to want a vote.
KORNACKI: That's true. However, we have been through this before, with the Republican Caucus essentially saying before last week that, if you don't take action on the Bush tax cuts, we're not going to allow action on don't ask, don't tell.
The question really comes down to, there are about four Republicans in the Senate right now, four moderate Republicans, like Olympia Snowe, Susan Collins, Scott Brown in Massachusetts, Lisa Murkowski in Alaska. Will they break with their party? If the rest of their party takes that approach, which I think they will, will those four or five -- maybe Dick Lugar would join them -- will they then break with the party and say, look, we made excuses once; we're not going to make excuses now; we want this vote now; then we will get to START?
BORGER: Well, you know, Joe Lieberman said the other day it's more important to get don't ask, don't tell done now, and -- and wait on the START treaty. So, there's one person...
ERICKSON: Right. It also takes more votes to get the START treaty done.
ERICKSON: You will need 66 under the Constitution, two-thirds of the Senate. You only need 60 to break the filibuster for don't ask, don't tell. COOPER: Also, just politically, for President Obama if he's looking to, you know, gain some points with the -- the liberal wing of the Democratic Party or the Democratic Party, passing don't ask, don't tell, it would seem, would do that more than the START treaty.
KORNACKI: No, that -- I mean, that's huge.
If you come to the end of this lame-duck session, and you've got this big tax compromise right now that at least has the vocal liberals within the party upset -- I think, if you look at the polls, it's interesting. The rank-and-file liberals in the party aren't nearly as upset.
But you've got vocal liberals who are upset with this. But if you can counter that with, hey, look, I have got $300 billion of stimulus in this tax deal, and also I got don't ask, don't tell repealed, and this was on the heels of an election in which the Republicans won 65 extra seats in the House, I think a lot of Democrats look at that and say, you know, for everything considered in this lame-duck session, that's not the worst scenario.
BORGER: Well, the White House would rather get it all, and thinks it's a false choice between one or the other, but we will just have to see.
COOPER: Yes. Well, I want a pony for Christmas. I don't think I'm going to get it. So, we will see.
COOPER: Erick, Steve, Gloria, thanks very much.
Join the live chat right now at AC360.com.