New roadblocks delay negotiations on security, ethics bills
Arizona Republican objects to agreement that would have allowed House-Senate talks on measure to implement unfulfilled 9/11 commission recommendations.
Senate Republican opposition to sending ethics and homeland security measures to conference set off a round of partisan bickering Monday, clouding prospects for wrapping up the bills before the August recess.
A planned meeting of the House Rules Committee was called off Monday, when Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., objected to a unanimous consent agreement that would have cleared the way for a conference committee by combining House bills that would implement the remaining recommendations of the 9/11 commission and would address rail and mass transit security.
An aide said Kyl was objecting on behalf of other Republican senators, but would not identify them.
Also Monday, Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., said he would continue to block a conference on lobbying and ethics reform until he receives a guarantee that his earmark-disclosure language will not be changed by the conference committee.
DeMint also rejected Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's offer to put him on the conference committee.
"The majority leader is trying to be clever, but I wasn't born yesterday," DeMint said. "Everybody knows Democrats are going to control the conference, 4 to 3, and they will vote 4 to 3 to kill earmark reform. Being on the conference won't do a thing to protect earmark reform."
Reid has said for weeks that he would keep the Senate from starting its August recess until the legislation moves to conference. He restated that intention Monday, suggesting that DeMint is an army of one standing in the way of legislation with broad bipartisan support.
The Senate version of the ethics and lobbying bill passed 96-2 in January. The House approved its version in May, 396-22. Such lopsided votes generally lead to quick, non-controversial conferences, and this one should follow the pattern if DeMint's objections are overcome.
The latest delay on the 9/11 front came after an agreement last week appeared to clear the way for its passage. As part of that agreement, Senate leaders signed off on a plan to merge the 9/11 and rail security measures into one bill that would go to conference. Monday's House Rules Committee meeting would have led to the creation of the single bill.
Kyl's objection brought the process to a halt and prompted some bitter finger-pointing in both directions.
"This is another example of the Senate Republican obstructionist agenda playing games with a top priority of the Democrats and the country," said a Democratic leadership aide.
"Everything's a mess right now," countered a Republican aide familiar with the negotiations. "The problem here is the fact that [Democrats] rushed through this bill. They didn't take the time to go through proper order and hold hearings and allow amendments."
The complication exposed the challenge Democrats have faced in completing the 9/11 legislation because multiple committees have jurisdiction over pieces of it.
Although Democrats had pledged to implement all of the 9/11 Commission's findings, they did not include one key recommendation to consolidate oversight of homeland security affairs under one committee.
The Republican staff of the House Homeland Security Committee issued a report this year criticizing Democrats for not consolidating oversight. The Republicans did not consolidate oversight when they controlled Congress.
Christian Bourge contributed to this report.