Senate Democrats blocked one Republican bill Tuesday and threatened to stymie others in a test of wills aimed at forcing action on the stalled nomination of Labor Secretary-designate Alexis M. Herman.
Voting 53 to 46, mostly along party lines, the Senate fell seven votes short of the 60 needed to cut off a Democratic filibuster against a bill sponsored by Sen. Paul Coverdell (R-Ga.) to give volunteers immunity from all but the most serious liability lawsuits.
Behind arguments over the legislation itself was a power struggle that threatens to bring the Senate’s already slow pace to a halt.
Republicans are withholding the vote on Hermanto force President Clinton to back off a proposed executive order they contend would result in excluding nonunion companies from winning federal construction contracts. They describe the order as “payback” for union support of Clinton in last year’s election and argue that it should be submitted as a bill for approval by the GOP-controlled Congress.
Democrats, accusing Republicans of what Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) called “an exercise of political extortion that discredits the Senate,” have responded by blocking the volunteer bill and threatening to block others until Republicans agree to vote on Herman’s nomination.
Republicans have said they have no quarrel with Herman and will approve her nomination as soon as the contracts dispute is resolved.
Until Republicans are ready to act on Herman, “I don’t think there’s much opportunity for us to move ahead on other legislation,” Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) said.
Republicans will try again today to break the Democratic filibuster, and Democrats said the result will be the same.
In Tuesday’s vote, all 45 Democrats voted to block the volunteerism bill and were joined by one Republican, Alabama Sen. Richard C. Shelby, who opposes the bill as a “federal intrusion on state laws,” according to his staff.
White House officials were in contact with Senate Majority Whip Don Nickles (R-Okla.), who is leading the fight against the executive order on federal contracts, but neither side reported any major progress toward a compromise.