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Returning From Recess, Senators Face A Stalemate

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Returning From Recess, Senators Face A Stalemate


Returning From Recess, Senators Face A Stalemate

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

President Obama was in Nevada yesterday trying to help majority leader Harry Reid keep his Senate seat in November. The president could also use Mr. Reid's help because much of the president's agenda is now stalled in the Senate. Lawmakers return on Monday from a recess to an impasse.

Democrats want to rack up accomplishments before this fall's midterm elections, but Republicans expect big gains in those elections and have little incentive to help them.

NPR's David Welna reports.

DAVID WELNA: At a fundraiser for Harry Reid at the University of Nevada in Las Vegas, President Obama lamented how at every turn, he and Reid faced what the president called opposition and obstruction from a lot of leaders across the aisle. So, Mr. Obama made a proposal tying together two issues that Democrats and Republicans can agree on: creating jobs and clean energy.

President BARACK OBAMA: If an American company wants to create jobs and grow, we should be there to help them do it. So, that's why I'm urging Congress to invest $5 billion more in these kinds of clean energy manufacturing tax credits - more than doubling the amount that we made available last year.

WELNA: The president mentioned that two Republican senators backed the measure. But efforts to get a larger energy bill moving in the Senate have gone nowhere, mainly due to GOP concerns that such a bill might include so-called cap and trade provisions aimed at limiting carbon emissions.

After a meeting on energy with the president last week, Tennessee Republican Lamar Alexander declared limits on carbon off the table.

Senator LAMAR ALEXANDER (Republican, Tennessee): If we want to have a clean energy bill this year, we can do that, but the first step in that is to put cap and trade aside. Then we can talk about things that the president and Republicans agree on.

WELNA: But there's not much the president and Republicans do agree on.

A few Republicans may vote to confirm Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court. A few may also end up voting for the final version of the financial regulatory overhaul that's already been passed by the House. But Republicans, citing concern over deficits, have repeatedly filibustered Democrats' efforts to extend long-term unemployment benefits that expired last month.

Majority leader Reid's frustration was clear at the Las Vegas fundraiser.

Senator HARRY REID (Democrat, Nevada; Senate Majority Leader): The party of no is in the United States Senate, those Republicans. We have a couple of women that work with us, but that's about it, the two senators from Maine. And it's been a struggle. They're betting on our failure, we're betting on our success, and you know, it's a bet we're going to win.

WELNA: Reid's problem goes beyond Republicans. Nebraska Democrat Ben Nelson has been breaking ranks with his party repeatedly to help Republicans filibuster the unemployment benefits extension.

Senator BEN NELSON (Democrat, Nebraska): I think at some point you have to say no to adding to the deficit because you only worsen the economy and you only threaten any kind of recovery by deficit spending.

WELNA: Such concerns kept neither Nelson nor a dozen Republicans from voting in late May for $33 billion in funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan - all of which would add to the deficit. The House passed that war funding last week, but because the House added $10 billion to keep teachers from being laid off, the bill once again needs the Senate's approval.

That will likely be contentious, as will the Senate's consideration of the annual defense authorization bill. Some Republicans are threatening to filibuster that measure because it contains a provision they strongly oppose -a repeal of the don't ask, don't tell policy that prohibits openly gay people from serving in the military.

As for the president's recent call for Congress to pass an immigration overhaul this year, South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham says forget it.

Senator LINDSEY GRAHAM (Republican, South Carolina): If you bring comprehensive immigration to the floor in this environment, it will fail, it will fail miserably, and nobody will touch it for a decade.

WELNA: Graham prefers waiting until after the elections. He thinks Republicans might be more willing then to consider not only immigration, but a lot of other things piling up in the Senate.

David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol.

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