July 5, 2011 / 8:41 PM / 8 years ago

UPDATE 2-US Senate's Reid scraps Libya measure for debt

* Kerry says Libya resolution will be back

* Rule of 60 on procedure votes gives Republicans leverage

(Adds Kerry, Feinstein)

By Susan Cornwell

WASHINGTON, July 5 (Reuters) - U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on Tuesday pulled a resolution to authorize the U.S. military conflict in Libya from the Senate schedule, after Republicans said they wanted to focus on the debt crisis instead.

A procedural vote had been planned for Tuesday evening on the Libya resolution. But Reid canceled it after Republicans complained that if they had to be in Washington during what was supposed to be their July 4 recess, they wanted to work on debt issues.

Reid told senators he had spoken with the Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell and “we agreed notwithstanding the broad support for the Libya resolution, the most important thing for us to focus on this week is the budget.”

The Senate will instead work to set up a vote on a nonbinding resolution related to the debt issue, calling on millionaires to “make a more meaningful contribution to the deficit reduction effort,” Reid said earlier.

Senator John Kerry, a Democrat and sponsor of the Libya resolution, said it could come up again as soon as next week.

“It’s not a big deal. I think it will come back pretty quickly,” he told reporters.

But other Democrats were not so unfazed. California Democrat Dianne Feinstein said that bipartisan talks over raising the U.S. national debt went on largely “behind the scenes” and so she didn’t buy the argument that the Senate could not work on Libya simultaneously.

Last week, Reid canceled a planned July 4 break that had been set for this week after President Barack Obama called on Congress to stay in town to work on budget matters. Reid had then scheduled the procedural vote for Tuesday evening on whether to start debate on a bipartisan resolution formally authorizing the U.S. role in air strikes in Libya.

But two Republican senators took the floor on Tuesday afternoon to urge senators to vote against opening debate on Libya, saying that if senators had to be in town, they should be focusing on the debt instead. Democrats feared most Republicans were going to take that attitude, so they decided to cancel the Libya vote, a Democratic leadership aide said.

Although Republicans are in the minority in the Senate, their opposition could stop the Libya resolution since a super-majority of 60 is needed on procedural votes.

“You can have the debate on Libya at some other time. The one and only reason that we are back in town ... that is this debt that threatens us,” Senator Bob Corker, a Republican, said on the Senate floor, not long before Reid spoke.

The House of Representatives defeated a similar measure authorizing U.S. Libya operations in June, so the Senate Libya resolution has little chance of becoming law even if it does eventually pass the Senate. (Additional reporting by Andy Sullivan; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

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