Johanns fails, Stranch advances, small-business bill ready to pass

JOHANNS FAILS, STRANCH ADVANCES, SMALL-BUSINESS BILL READY TO PASS …. It’s been a busy half-day in the Senate, and nearly all of the news is good.

First, following up on an item from yesterday, Senate Republicans hope to ease businesses’ IRS filing requirements as part of the Affordable Care Act, but want to pay for it by all but eliminating the Prevention and Public Health Fund. Today, the GOP push came up far short.

The Senate on Tuesday defeated an effort to strip a controversial tax-reporting provision from the sweeping healthcare law Congress passed earlier this year.

Lawmakers voted 46 to 52 to block an amendment sponsored by Sen. Mike Johanns (R-Neb.) that would have saved businesses and nonprofit groups from having to report an array of small and medium-sized purchases to the Internal Revenue Service.

Republicans voted in lock step for the Johans amendment, while seven Democrats — Evan Bayh (Ind.), Michael Bennet (Colo.), Blanche Lincoln (Ark.), Ben Nelson (Neb.), Mark Pryor (Ark.), Mark Warner (Va.), and Jim Webb (Va.) — broke ranks and voted with the GOP.

Also today, the Senate managed to barely overcome a filibuster of a package of small-business incentives.

Senate Democrats today overcame a summer-long Republican filibuster of a bill to jumpstart job growth by providing small businesses with a $30 billion lending fund and around $12 billion in tax relief.

The vote to break the filibuster was 61 to 37. Every Democrat supported the tax breaks and expanded credit for small businesses. Every Republican voted to kill the bill, except Sens. George Voinovich of Ohio and George Lemieux of Florida. Final passage is expected this week, and will go to the House for approval.

In other Senate news, last night, the chamber managed to approve a judicial nominee.

More than 400 days ago, President Obama nominated Nashville Attorney Jane Stranch to the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. No senator articulated a plausible reason to oppose Stranch’s nomination, although Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) did take to the Senate floor yesterday to make the absurd claim that he must oppose Stranch because she says that she will emulate the Supreme Court’s precedents concerning foreign law. Stranch is not a particularly contentious nominee — indeed, both of her state’s Republican senators endorsed her nomination, and Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) even unsuccessfully pushed to have her confirmed nearly two months ago. Nevertheless, Stranch has waited more than a year for the Senate to simply vote on her nomination.

Last night, the Senate finally ended the pointless obstruction of Stranch’s nomination.

The final vote was 71 to 21. Why would such a non-controversial nomination have to wait more than 400 days for an up-or-down vote? Because Senate Republicans broke the judicial confirmation process.

In all, not a bad day for the chamber.