Senate has end of 113th in sight

Source: By Alexander Bolton, The • Posted: Tuesday, December 16, 2014

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Senators will vote to end debate and confirm Sarah Saldaña, Obama’s nominee to head Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, and Tony Blinken, the choice to serve as Deputy Secretary of State.

That would speed up final votes on a package extending a variety of lapsed tax breaks and on the stalled Terrorism Risk Insurance Act.

A senior Democratic aide said the “optimistic realistic scenario” is for the Senate to adjourn after a late night of votes on Wednesday while the “pessimistic realistic scenario” calls for lawmakers to return Thursday to finish their work.

Senate aides expect GOP to drop objections to faster consideration of executive and judicial nominees once Saldaña and Blinken clear the floor.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), a potential presidential candidate in 2016, vowed to oppose Saldaña after calling her a “rubber stamp for amnesty.” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), another possible White House hopeful, said he would hold up Blinken because of what he called his evasive response to questions about the administration’s Cuba policy.

The Senate voted to confirm a third controversial nominee, Vivek Murthy, Monday evening. The National Rifle Association strongly opposed his nomination to serve as surgeon general after he called guns a public health issue that needs to be debated.

The other potential obstacle to wrapping up the session earlier in the week are a batch of 12 district court nominees. Incoming Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) has made it clear that he strongly disagrees with the Democrats’ decision to move judicial nominees that were reported out of committee after the election.

Grassley is particularly aggrieved over the nomination of Stephen Bough to serve as district judge for the Western District of Missouri. Unlike the other nominees, Bough was reported to the floor in September.

“There are just too many data points – red flags, if you will – which tell me that Mr. Bough doesn’t have what it takes to serve in a lifetime appointment on the Missouri district court,” Grassley said in a statement Monday.

“These red flags all relate to one troubling question that the nominee’s record raises:  whether Mr. Bough has the temperament to be a federal judge.”

“He doesn’t,” Grassley said.

Senate aides say a one-year extension of expired tax breaks will be one of the last items to move because it has strong support on both sides of the aisle and gives lawmakers incentive to stay in town to complete other work. They predict it will pass quickly once put on the schedule.

The other outstanding legislative item is the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act.

A senior GOP aide said objections to the bill have been mostly cleared and that Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) remains the lone holdout.

Coburn has blocked the bill because it does not allow states to opt out of the program.

The GOP aide said Coburn is likely to let it come up for a vote this week if he receives a concession — such as consideration of one of his priorities —from the leadership.

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) has criticized the House-passed legislation because it includes language softening the 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform bill to allow non-financial companies known as “end users” to avoid margin requirements for swaps hedging commercial risk.

But Schumer has not lodged an objection that would block it from coming to a vote, according to a Democratic aide. It’s possible a liberal Demo