WASHINGTON-Christmas cheer is in short supply in the U.S. Senate.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is trying to cram in a gift basket of votes before Jan. 4, which is when the Democratic majority in that chamber will shrink. He is pushing for a vote on the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) and wants another go at overturning the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy. The Senate was also working to pass a $1.2 trillion omnibus spending bill to keep the government operating, but it was finally abandoned by Democrats Thursday evening. Reid has warned that his agenda may keep senators on Capitol Hill up until Christmas Day, and perhaps the week after.
Republican Jon Kyl of Arizona said Democrats couldn't finish their laundry list of votes "without disrespecting one of the two holiest of holidays for Christians."
Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., joined the chorus. "We shouldn't be jamming a major arms control treaty up against Christmas; it's sacrilegious and disrespectful," he told Politico. "What's going on here is just wrong. This is the most sacred holiday for Christians. They did the same thing last year-they kept everybody here until [Christmas Eve] to force something down everybody's throat. I think Americans are sick of this."
Democrats reacted strongly, saying Republicans shouldn't "whine" about having to work extra hours. Reid called Kyl and DeMint "sanctimonious." The Mormon adherent added, "As a Christian, no one has to remind me of the importance of Christmas for all of the Christian faith, all their families across America. . . . Most people don't get two weeks off at any time, let alone on Christmas week."
The vice president himself issued a denunciation of the Republicans in an interview on MSNBC Wednesday: "Don't tell me about Christmas. I understand Christmas. I have been a senator for a long time. I have been there many years where we go right up to Christmas. There's 10 days between now and Christmas. I hope I don't get in the way of your Christmas shopping, but this is about the nation's business. This is national security at stake. Act. Act."
DeMint returned that he was happy to work "every day until Christmas and beyond to stop this rampage of spending and bad policy." He added, "What I object to is Democrats trying to rush through an agenda voters rejected and hoping that Americans are too busy with the holidays to notice."
DeMint initially called for both U.S.-Russia arms control treaty and the 2,000-page omnibus spending bill to be read aloud on the Senate floor, which would certainly delay votes. He quickly scrapped the plan to read START aloud. START, which would regulate nuclear arms, has a good chance of being ratified, which requires a two-thirds Senate majority.
A number of liberal Christian leaders-like Jim Wallis at Sojourners, Tyler Wigg-Stevenson at Two Futures Project, and Eric Sapp at American Values Network-condemned the Republicans' comments.
"The teaching of the New Testament, from Jesus Christ (cf. Mark 2:27) to Paul (cf. Rom 14:5-6), makes clear that the work of righteousness, justice and compassion should never be pre-empted by a legalistic appeal to holiday," said Wigg-Stevenson in a statement. Sapp said Republicans demonstrated "the worst examples of faith in politics."
Last year, the Senate passed its version of healthcare reform on Christmas Eve.