Explaining his vote to push forward the Senate bill extending unemployment insurance, Senator Dan Coats of Indiana says he agreed to advance debate in part out of a desire to keep Senate Majority Harry Reid from eliminating the filibuster for legislation, as he recently did for presidential nominations.
“I think it’s wrapped up somewhat in that,” Coats said when asked by National Review Online whether his decision was related to Reid’s recent exercise of the “nuclear option.”
“I’d like to get to the point where we can sit down and get back to regular order,” he said.
“I came here under a Democrat leadership, George Mitchell, and I came from the House, where I served eight years in the minority. People asked me the difference between the House and the Senate, I said ‘it’s like going to political heaven,’ because any senator, whether you’re a majority senator, or a minority senator, can offer any amendment to any bill at any time. We debate it, you may win, you may lose,” Coats said.
Now, under Reid, “it has been political hell. I might as well be in the House of Representatives as the minority. You’re not allowed to offer an amendment.” Coats said he deeply fears Reid will expand the move to all legislation. “I hope and pray not. That would be the final straw. That would totally break what the Senate has been for over 200 years,” he said.
Coats agreed to provide the 60th vote to advance debate on the measure without any commitment from Reid to allow “pay-for” amendments that would cancel out the increased spending with offsets from other areas. But he says his vote for cloture will help put pressure on Democrats to be accommodating in turn.
“If Harry wants to not give us an opportunity to offer amendments, to debate reforms, to accept the pay-for, then Democrats will have to answer the question” why they won’t work with Republicans who agreed to cloture, Coats argues. “Since it did clear [cloture], I’ll be able to test that,” he said.
Republican senator Mark Kirk of Illinois is more pessimistic. Asked whether advancing debate would have afforded the opportunity to amend the bill to include an offset, Kirk said Democrats simply won’t cooperate.
“My worry was they weren’t that interested in finding a pay-for because they wanted a political issue because they think this polls well,” Kirk said. “The discussion in there was not that serious. The point was to put Republicans on record with what they felt was an unpopular vote.”
The contrast between Coats and Kirk is striking because Kirk is normally a sought-after vote from Democrats searching for Republican partners on Senate bills.
“It’s not unusual for the president to call me to ask for liberal votes,” Kirk noted, as President Obama did in this instance. Coats, asked if Obama had called to lobby him, laughed heartily: “No! He never calls me. I never hear from the White House.”