Harry Reid’s ‘Pro Forma’ Leadership

by Andrew Stiles

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) is up to his usual tricks, opting not to fully adjourn the Senate for what would have been a week-long recess for the Memorial Day holiday. Instead, the Senate will have to convene for three short “pro forma” sessions over the next ten days.

Earlier this week, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R., Ala.), ranking member on the Senate Budget Committee, had threatened to withhold his support for the unanimous consent agreement required to adjourn the Senate. Sessions did so out of protest against the Senate Democrats’ failure to produce a budget resolution more than a month after the April 15 deadline as required by law, not to mention their having gone more than 750 days without passing a budget.

Sessions’ threat, however, was merely symbolic in that Reid could always override the objection with a simple majority vote. Even if every single Republican opposed the unanimous consent to adjourn (and they would have), the Democrats could not prevent the Senate from adjourning. Simply put, Reid chose not to adjourn to spare Senate Democrats the indignity of voting themselves a vacation despite having failed to produce a budget. Not only that, but Democrats did not a cast a single vote in favor of any of the four budget resolutions brought to “pro forma” votes on Wednesday, including the one offered by President Obama, which failed spectacularly, 97 to 0.

“The Majority Leader’s decision not to bring adjournment to a vote — but instead to hold a series of pro forma sessions — is a stark admission that the Democrat Senate cannot justify to the American people its unwillingness to work on a budget,” Sessions said in a statement. “So indefensible is their stance that they have resorted to ducking a simple vote on whether to adjourn the chamber for Memorial Day recess.”

On the other hand, perhaps Reid wasn’t “ducking” such a vote, but wanted to spare himself the even greater indignity of being voted down by his own party. He would’ve been asking a lot of moderate Democrats up for reelection next year — Joe Manchin, Claire McCaskill, Jon Tester, and Ben Nelson, to name a few — by expecting them to go on the record in favor of adjournment, and it would have taken just three Democratic defections to block the measure.

The most significant implication of the pro forma session is that President Obama will be unable to make any federal appointments during the recess. Some Republicans had feared Obama would use the opportunity to appoint the controversial Elizabeth Warren to head the equally controversial Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Beyond that, the Senate won’t be able to conduct any legislative business. But that would hardly be a change of pace for this “pro forma” Democratic majority.