This story has been updated
WASHINGTON -- The entire Republican Senate caucus has signed a letter to Majority Leader Harry Reid, informing him that they will filibuster any legislative measure that comes before the Senate prior to the body considering a budget or tax cut legislation
The Associated Press first reported the letter last night. But on Wednesday morning Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's office passed a copy on to reporters, showing that he had secured signatures from every Senate Republican.
"[W]e write to inform you that we will not agree to invoke cloture on the motion to proceed to any legislative item until the Senate has acted to fund the government and we have prevented the tax increase that is currently awaiting all American taxpayers," the letter reads. "With little time left in this Congressional session, legislative scheduling should be focused on these critical priorities. While there are other items that might ultimately be worthy of the Senate's attention, we cannot agree to prioritize any matters above the critical issues of funding the government and preventing a job-killing tax hike."
The maneuver comes, notably, just hours after congressional leadership met with President Barack Obama in an effort to chart out how to work in a bipartisan fashion. It also dropped on the same day that a bipartisan group of lawmakers was set to meet with the Secretary of the Treasury and head of the Office of Management and Budget to discuss a resolution to the tax cut debate. Pointing to the latter, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) took the floor on Wednesday to condemn, what he called, a "cynical" tactic to delay legislative progress.
"My Republican colleagues knew [about the tax cuts meeting] as they drafted this letter," Reid said. "Therefore, they also know that the true effect of this letter is to prevent the Senate from acting on many important issues that have bipartisan support. With this letter they have simply put in writing the political strategy the Republicans have pursued this entire congress: Mainly, obstruct and delay, obstruct delay action on critical matters, and then blame the Democrats for not addressing the needs of the American people. Very cynical but very obvious and very transparent."
Democrats have been planning to deal with immigration reform and the military's Don't Ask, Don't Tell legislation during the lame duck session. A continuing resolution for the budget was on the docket, as was one for tax cuts. But there was no sense about prioritizing those two before the former measures.
How Reid and the White House respond to the letter could give observers a fairly strong sense, not only about how the lame duck session will play out, but also how bipartisanship will be defined in the closing years of Obama's first term in office.
UPDATE: The Associated Press reports that the START treaty -- a nuclear arms pact with Russia -- will no be affected by the new GOP pledge. And Mark Helmke, a senior adviser to Sen. Dick Lugar (R-Ind.), the main Republican Senator behind START, tells Amanda Terkel of the Huffington Post that the treaty is not endangered.
"We're still pushing for the START Treaty to move forward. We're hoping to do that the week of the 13th," Helmke said. "We don't need to have the House in session for the treaty. ... This is assuming we're going to get these things [budget, tax issues] done in the next two weeks, then we take up START in the third week."
FURTHER UPDATE: McConnell took the floor shortly after Reid delivering the following remarks:
With just a few weeks to go before the end of the session, Democrats continue to place their own priorities over the priorities of the American people. These are the things Democrats have chosen to do instead of preventing a massive tax hike that economists tell us would stifle the economy.
Republicans have pleaded with Democrats to put aside their wish-list -- to focus on the things Americans want us to focus on. They've ignored us. The voters repudiated their agenda at the polls. They've ignored them. Time is running out. They're ignoring that.
UPDATED 10:15 AM: HuffPost's Howard Fineman reports:
"Senator Reid keeps stalling and we're looking at another week of dealing with issues that aren't the central ones," said one top GOP aide. "He's had months and months to deal with this other stuff."
The surprisingly easy passage of the Food Safety Bill -- hailed as a hopeful sign of bipartisanship -- made the GOP leadership all the more determined to take control of the timetable.
The unified pledge also helps GOP leader Mitch McConnell keep control of Republicans willing to work on side deals -- among them Sen. John McCain, who has expressed optimism about passage of the New START treaty.
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