Political scientists have been nervous about a move by Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) to defund the political science program at NSF. This evening’s events on the Senate floor drive home (yet again) how hard it is to get anything done in the Senate. Coburn could only offer his amendment to the Continuing Resolution (which includes funding for NSF) if Majority Leader Harry Reid could secure the consent of all of his colleagues for an agreement to limit the number of amendments on the CR. (There were 146 pending amendments; Reid was not about to allow debates and recorded votes on all of them…) Reid proposed an agreement, which allowed for nine votes on pending amendments. Four of Coburn’s amendments were included in the agreement, including a “modified” version of his amendment to kill NSF funding of political science research. (Note: Each of the amendments would have required sixty votes to pass, if I heard Reid correctly.)
Things were looking up for Coburn (and down for political science funding) until Senator Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) came to the floor to object that her particular defense amendment had not been included in the agreement. And then, not to be outdone, Senator Jerry Moran (R-KS) rose to note that if Ayotte had not beat him to the punch, he would have objected to the agreement since it failed to allow for a vote on his own amendment that would have protected funding for air traffic control towers from sequestration. (“Victory” has a thousand fathers/mothers?)
What then? Reid had previously filed cloture on the bipartisan Mikulski-Shelby alternative CR to the House CR. With cloture just invoked, the Senate will now presumably proceed to vote—after thirty hours potentially— on the Senate appropriators’ compromise, which would (roughly) afford some domestic departments and agencies flexibility under sequestration (in contrast to the House CR which protected only defense programs). And then thirty hours more if cloture is needed on the amended House CR …before a final passage vote….
Always risky to live blog the Senate floor. But suffice it to say, the past hour’s events on the Senate floor drive home:
—The near impossible task Harry Reid faces in herding cats, particularly the Republican ones.
—The dysfunction of the Senate appropriations process. Individual senators’ unwillingness to consent to a bipartisan agreement leaves all senators’ with less opportunity to influence the course of federal spending. (We can’t blame this one on a recalcitrant House.)
—Political science funding may yet live for another day (or least for the remaining six months of the current fiscal year).
I might be jumping the gun on concluding that there will not be a vote to defund political science. But the difficulties individual senators face in securing floor votes on their agendas—coupled with the difficulties the majority leader faces in trying to make the Senate function—drive home how tortuous daily life in the Senate continues to be.