WASHINGTON—A blank piece of legislation that says nothing, does nothing, and contains no text whatsoever has been the source of heated debate in Washington this week, and has sharply divided Congress along partisan lines, Beltway sources confirmed Thursday.
Known as S.0000, the bill, which doesn’t have sponsors, co-sponsors, or an author, has reportedly drawn starkly contrasting opinions from legislators in both the Senate and House of Representatives, and has paved the way for a major legislative battle in coming months.
“At a time when millions of Americans are still struggling, we simply cannot afford this kind of devil-may-care federal policy,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), angrily waving the blank stack of papers in front of reporters. “We will not risk leading the American people into further hardship simply so the Obama administration can once again do whatever they please, regardless of the consequences. As it is now, the bill is both short-sighted and utterly irresponsible.”
“Frankly, we need to get back to the negotiating table and make some major changes before members of my party would even consider putting this up for a vote,” McConnell continued. “And if my friends on the other side of the aisle try push it through, well, they’ll pay the consequences at the ballot box.”
According to reports, 45 Democratic senators are in favor of the bill—which contains no text whatsoever—while 41 Republicans are staunchly opposed. At least three Republicans, including Sens. Richard Burr (R-NC), David Vitter (R-LA), and Susan Collins (R-ME), have said they would consider crossing the aisle and backing the bill, an announcement that drew fierce criticism from GOP leadership and primary threats from members within their own party.
Republican critics told reporters that the wordless document would “kill jobs and force another round of big government policies upon the American people.” Some Democrats said the blank legislation doesn’t go far enough, while a majority of party members accused the GOP of “willfully undermining the legislative process” and being totally averse to any and all concessions.
Republican senators filibustered the up-and-down vote proposed by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) earlier in the week, and sources said today’s cloture motion that would have forced S.0000 to a vote also failed to pass.
House Speaker John Boehner has already said the Senate version of the non-legislation is dead on arrival in the House, and that the Republican majority would work together to pass their own blank law.
“The truth is, Speaker Boehner doesn’t have enough support in his own party, and will need Democratic help to pass anything,” said Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD), adding that he “firmly and categorically stands behind” many of the nonexistent measures in the bill. “But once again, the GOP has decided they would rather spread vicious lies about the effects of this legislation, and they’ve successfully created a panic that is completely unfounded. Americans can’t afford to wait around any longer. We need to get this done now.”
While lawmakers have overwhelmingly fallen along party lines, several Democratic members of Congress who are up for reelection in 2014 have joined Republicans in blasting the legislation, fearing that showing any kind of support for President Obama and his agenda could lead to their ouster. Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) has said the bill, which would enact no changes of any kind to either federal or statewide governments, is immoral, unconstitutional, and flies in the face of states’ rights.
President Obama, meanwhile, has heavily criticized Congress for its failure to vote on the proposal.
“The inaction of Congress and the hyperbolic, ultra-partisan statements regarding this legislation, are precisely why most Americans are frustrated with Washington,” Obama told the assembled White House press corps, adding that he is prepared to sign the empty sheet of paper into law as soon as it crosses his desk. “Our government representatives are putting politics ahead of the American people, and that’s unacceptable.”
Though some lawmakers remain optimistic over a future deal brokered between the two parties, many Capitol Hill insiders said any future compromise is overwhelmingly unlikely.
“Essentially, there are two possible outcomes for this bill: It’ll either get completely gutted in committee, or it’ll be put up for a vote and then be swiftly killed,” said Washington Post national political correspondent Karen Tumulty, adding that to enact the bill’s total lack of provisions would require heavy concessions from both sides of the aisle. “But let’s not beat around the bush here—the midterm elections are right around the corner, and these legislators don’t want to take a chance and do anything that might cast them in a negative light before their constituents go to the polls.”
“To be completely honest, the best bet would be if Congress just waits until after 2014, breaks the bill up the into smaller parts and tries to pass it piecemeal,” Tumulty added. “Or maybe they should just start from scratch.”