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Strange times: Republicans block tax credits -- as a protest

By Lisa Desjardins, CNN Capitol Hill Reporter
updated 12:13 PM EDT, Fri May 16, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Republicans were protesting how Democrats run the Senate
  • Pushing tax credits is usually a Republican staple
  • The Senate is struggling to find a way to operate as traditional process has broken down
  • Democrats are frustrated with Republicans over nominations; The GOP says Dems block their ideas

(CNN) -- It is a rare, strange day when Senate Republicans vote to block billions in tax cuts. But that's what happened Thursday when they chose to freeze a massive tax credit package in order to protest how Democrats are running the chamber.

By a vote of 53-40, the EXPIRE Act, which would extend $85 billion in tax credits, failed to get the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster.

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Only one Republican, Sen. Mark Kirk of Illinois, voted with Democrats to advance the measure. The rest of the GOP votes were "no," as Republicans vented anger that Democrats have refused to allow votes on their amendments to this and most other bills in the past year.

"This is bigger than any one bill," Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said on the floor. "What (Democrats are) doing is muzzling the people of this country, a gag order on the people we were sent here to represent."

"It's time to act as the U.S. Senate should act and allow (both sides) the opportunity to express their view," echoed Sen. Orrin Hatch, Republican of Utah.

The pushback comes as the Senate struggles to find a way to operate. Traditional processes and procedures for working through sharp divides have broken down in the past year.

Democrats, frustrated with Republicans for blocking presidential nominees, changed a significant piece of the filibuster rule. Triggering the so-called "nuclear option," Majority Leader Harry Reid and Democrats made it easier to get around GOP objections. That raised hostility behind the scenes to a new level.

At the same time, Republicans are also furious that Democrats will not let bills have a so-called "open" process, where senators can propose amendments and get a vote on their idea.

That is far from unique to Reid or this Senate. Republicans have used the same tactic to choose friendly amendments when they were in the majority.

But after months of tension and in a bitter midterm election year where they want to rail against Democrats, Republicans decided that Thursday was the day to take a stand on the process issues in the Senate.

Reid fired back, insisting that Republicans are the ones causing obstruction in the Senate and are doing so for political reasons.

"It should not be lost that Republican senators are continuing their agenda by just saying no," the Nevada senator said after the vote. "I wonder who called them today to kill this bill? No matter the excuse, Republicans continue to wage war against common sense."

Reid also made sure to point out that, with Thursday's vote, Republicans were blocking their own cause.

"That's what just happened, Republicans just voted against tax cuts," Reid said.

What happens next?

The bill to extend the tax cuts is frozen temporarily but not dead. Reid suggested that both sides should take the weekend to think about their next moves.

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