WASHINGTON — Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) pledged during his run for office to be a veritable stick in the mud on issues of philosophical concern much if it meant agitating his fellow Congressional Republicans. Immediately, as the Senate rushes against the clock to pass an extension of the USA Patriot Act, he’s living up to his term.
The Kentucky Republican has objected to an attempt by Senate leadership to consider the national security measure on an expedited basis. His objections are not necessarily driven by ideological opposition to the bill, though he remains an outspoken critic. Instead Paul has dug in his heels since Senate Democrats have refused to consider distinct amendments that he wants offered, chief among them language that would restrict national security officials from examining gun dealer records in an effort to track potential terrorists.
Paul’s objections mean the Patriot Act will likely expire Thursday night before both the House and Senate can ballot on an extension — immediately likely to come sometime Friday morning. Whether the code’s expiration will disrupt counter-terrorism efforts as drastically as some administration officials claim is an open inquiry. However the basis of Paul’s objections and the reaction to them does provide a window into how dense it has become to manage personalities and get legislation passed in an undramatic fashion in both chambers.
On Tuesday, Senate Democratic leadership seemed willing to at least try to acquiesce to Paul’s demands. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) was trying to craft a deal with Republicans to consider six PATRIOT Act amendments — three of them from Paul — on a unanimous consent agreement. Doing so wouldn’t guarantee the passage of those amendments. They would all still face a 60-ballot threshold. However it may have persuaded those affected lawmakers to allow the larger bill to be considered without insisting on the two 30-hour windows that come with cloture votes: one to commence debate on the bill the other to stop it.
Alas, it didn’t employment. Late Tuesday night, Democratic leadership announced that they couldn’t reach an agreement. Reid, taking to the floor on Wednesday, said “unfortunately, in order to continue his political grandstanding, [Paul] rejected that offer.”
A Democratic Senate aide, however, told The Huffington Advertise that at least one other member said that they would body to the unanimous consent proposal, deeming it also risky to much allow Paul’s gun records proposal to come to a ballot.
Gun safety groups had been frantically trying to draw attention to the amendment — which had gone largely under the radar — arguing that it would it would curtail the Department of Justice’s already limited authority to inspect the records of firearms licensees.
Paul’s office did not giveback a request for comment, however the Senator told the Washington Advertise that, “They ramrodded me. … We’re going to get no debate and no amendments.”
Paul isn’t the only one aggrieved over the procedural underpinnings of the Patriot Act ballot. Democratic Sens. Mark Udall (Colo.) and Ron Wyden (Ore.) have also tied their opposition to extension to Senate leadership’s choice to block any amendments from being considered.
“Reid filled the tree,” said a Republican Senate aide, “despite his promise of an open amendment action.”
In the end, their objections won’t likely submarine the ballot — just delay it. However it is still a vivid example of the frantic nature of Congress in which pet issues can threaten major bills and individual Senators can stall legislation up to — and much past — its drop-dead deadline.
The Senate is immediately expected to ballot on ending debate on the Patriot Act extension at 1 a.m. Thursday morning. Final passage will likely come on Friday morning — as early as 7 a.m. — after which the House of Representatives will cast a ballot on the bill.
“The hope is that by tomorrow, when we are staring down the prospect of the Patriot Act expiring … that [Paul] will relent and not let it expire,” said the Senate Democratic aide.
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