A prickly problem of picking priorities

A PRICKLY PROBLEM OF PICKING PRIORITIES…. In the abstract, the Senate’s task isn’t that difficult. The chamber has to vote to keep the government running. Then, among other things, there’s the New START treaty, which has the votes to be ratified, and the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” which also has the votes it needs.

But Josh Marshall’s lay of the land sounds about right — for some on the Hill, it’s sounding like an either/or scenario.

The key background issue to think about here with the looming DADT vote is how much the real issue is here is DADT repeal versus getting the START treaty passed. Which goes first and which there’s time to get passed.

It’s really not clear to me that it has to be one of the other. But that’s the chatter.

Lieberman says DADT should come first. The White House is very, very, very focused on getting the START Treaty passed. The truth is that they’re both very important. And both probably have to go through in this Congress, though arguably START has more of a shot next year than DADT repeal. Again, though, there are three more weeks before the next Congress gets sworn in. I’m not convinced there’s only time for one.

Remember, Republican obstruction means far more than just finding supermajorities to do anything. It means GOP filibusters on motions to proceed (delays), followed by GOP demands for pointless amendments (more delays), followed by GOP filibusters on final passage (even more delays). Simple measures that should take a few hours end up taking a week, if not more. With the far-right desperate to run out the clock on the lame-duck session, these tactics even include truly ridiculous tantrums like forcing clerks to take turns reading the text of legislation out loud for days on end.

It’s not simply a matter, then, of bringing bills to the floor. Republicans intend to paralyze the legislative process, even more so than they have been for two — arguably four — years.

And so then it becomes a matter of choosing among priorities. For the White House, my sense is New START trumps DADT repeal, though the West Wing strongly supports both. Lieberman and others would flip the two. The questions that come up don’t necessarily have good answers: could the arms treaty be ratified in the next Congress? Could Dems count on the courts to scrap DADT for them? Would tackling DADT before New START doom ratification, or is it the other way around? What are the odds of some kind of filibuster reform, and would that make any difference on other measures like the DREAM Act and the 9/11 health bill?

But Josh’s last point is the one that resonates with me — most of the challenges with the calendar are based on assumptions about wrapping up before Christmas (in other words, next week). That’s a target Republicans hope to exploit to force items from the to-do list.

I can’t say this with certainty, but I suspect many Senate Democrats don’t want to work every day leading up to Jan. 4, and Harry Reid is doing his best to accommodate their concerns. But if I’m the Majority Leader, I’d be inclined to make it abundantly clear to GOP obstructionists that the Senate will vote on all of its major priorities before the next Congress begins.

How long that takes is entirely up to Republicans.