ox•y•mo•ron = a combination of contradictory or incongruous words
(as cruel kindness)
People frequently ask – well, at least congressional wonks– what is the Senate schedule? When will it consider a piece of legislation or when might a vote occur?
The correct answer to these questions usually is, “Who Knows?” That’s because the Majority Leader usually does not know. The Republican leader does not know. The other 98 Senators do not know.
Take recent predictions by the people most directly interested in getting a handle on the Senate schedule during the recently concluded lame duck session: 100 Senators.
Arizona Senator Jon Kyl (R) told MSNBC on November 18, “I think there is no chance that [the START] treaty can be completed in the lame duck session.”
Hmmm. Turns out there was a chance.
Take another Kyl prediction on December 3: “The defense bill containing language allowing for repeal of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy banning openly gay service members is dead for the year because there simply isn’t enough time for the Senate to consider it in the lame-duck session.”
He was technically correct, but the defense bill and the “don’t ask, don’t tell” proved very much alive when phoenix-like, both were approved as separate measures before the end of the session.
However, it’s not as if Democrats are wiser than Republicans. On December 6, Roll Call reported Majority Whip Dick Durbin saying the prospects of the Senate considering the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty during the lame-duck session are growing increasingly dim.
The dimness turned into bright light.
South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham (R) was definitive on chances of completing New START. According to the December 10 CQ Today, “Asked Dec. 9 if beginning consideration of the accord on Dec. 14 or Dec. 15 would be sufficient, Graham exclaimed, ‘No!’”
Guess what: the New START debate began on December 15 and concluded on December 22.
Nebraska Sen. Ben Nelson’s powers of prognostication took a hit on December 14, the day before the treaty came up, saying on December 14: “The Senate does not have enough time to take up the accord before the lame-duck session concludes.”
Oh yes it did.
Kyl was back with an incorrect assessment on December 14, snidely opining that Majority Leader Reid’s prediction that the treaty would pass the Senate was inaccurate: “I will resist the temptation to go over the record of things where the Majority Leader had predicted something prematurely.”
Reid was correct in his prediction; it was Kyl who was premature.
On December 15, Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander (R) angrily criticized Reid and the Democrats for bringing up the treaty so late in the session: “This is a last-minute Christmastime stunt that puts a major arms-control treaty in jeopardy.”
Hmmm, the “stunt” propelled the treaty to victory rather than putting it in jeopardy and Alexander voted in favor.
Divining the schedule also is a challenge because of Senators’ threats to launch delaying actions, only to pull back at the last moment. South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint (R), in a National Review blog, suggested he would filibuster the new START Treaty: “I will use every tool available to oppose an attempt to rush the debate over the START Treaty during this lame-duck session of Congress.”
Yet when the Senate began consideration of the treaty, that tool was left in the toolshed.
A demand to read the 2,000 page Omnibus Appropriations Bill also disappeared when the bill did not obtain the required 60 votes to bring it up. It was estimated that it would have taken 64 hours to read the entire measure.
Of course bad predictions about Senate behavior extend well beyond the 100 Senators.
This author predicted more times than he can count that either Kyl and the Obama Administration would come to a deal on nuclear modernization (in which case the treaty would easily be approved) or Kyl would prevent a final vote on the treaty.
The world’s greatest deliberative body may also be its most unpredictable.