The Republicans in the Senate have decided to flex their muscles to get Harry Reid focused on the economy instead of DREAM Acts and expansion of environmental regulation.  In a letter signed by all 42 Republicans in the upper chamber, the Republican caucus pledged to filibuster every bill that Reid pushes until the Senate deals with the tax hikes scheduled for the end of the year:

Senate Republicans are vowing to block all legislative business until Democrats hold votes on bills to extend the Bush-era tax cuts and keep the government funded through the new year.

In a letter signed by all 42 Republicans, Republicans warn they will filibuster any attempt to bring forward any bill besides those two measures. That could further complicate Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s desire to complete a laundry list of other bills in the final weeks of the 111th Congress.

Citing the nation’s high unemployment rate and the desire to “focus on creating an environment for private-sector job growth” Republicans are telling Reid “that we will not agree to invoke cloture on the motion to proceed to any legislative item until the Senate has acted to fund the government and we have prevented the tax increase that is currently awaiting all American taxpayers.

“With little time left in this Congressional session, legislative scheduling should be focused on these critical priorities,” the letter said. “While there are other items that might ultimately be worthy of the Senate’s attention, we cannot agree to prioritize any matters above the critical issues of funding the government and preventing a job-killing tax hike.”

As my good friend Scott Johnson asks, “[C]ouldn’t they have signed off on it before the Senate passed the stupid and misguided Nanny state food bill on Monday?”  According to the Politico report, it may have been Reid’s insistence on pushing S510 that provided the catalyst for the letter.  The caucus apparently decided on this strategy Monday night after the S510 vote, and after it became clear that the Democrats planned to stall for time on the tax hikes.

Jim Inhofe highlighted a report from E&E News that Reid was about to push through a massive, omnibus environmental legislation expansion in the next few days as well:

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid told Senate colleagues this week he will move forward with an eleventh-hour effort to pass a massive package of waterways, public lands and wildlife bills during the lame-duck session, sources say, in what could be a rare environmental victory for a Congress marked by major defeats on climate change and oil spill legislation.

The Nevada Democrat offered his assurances Monday night after a group of about 10 Senate Democrats, including key committee leaders Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), met with him in a room off the Senate floor to ask him to intensify his efforts to push a bill through the heavily divided Senate, which already faces a packed agenda for the waning days of this Congress, the sources said.

“They went to the leader to say, ‘We want you to pay attention to this more than you have,'” said an environmental lobbyist closely involved in the effort. Reid’s office did not respond to a request for comment last night.

By all accounts, Reid was receptive and the meeting was a success. Afterward, Reid’s staff reached out to the offices of senators involved to ask for a draft of the proposed legislation, which was expected to be delivered to the leader’s office either last night or today.

In other words, the letter has been prompted not by a partisan calculation but in response to a partisan calculation.  Democrats have yet to pass a budget for FY2011, and the tax hikes still hang like a Sword of Damocles over businesses and consumers alike.  Instead of handling their basic duties — which one might have expected Democrats to do after getting a historical spanking in the midterms — they’re drinking as much champagne as they can find on the Titanic before it completely submerges.

The Republican letter may have been a little late in regards to S510, and it probably doesn’t quite go far enough, either.  They should pledge to filibuster anything unrelated to passing a budget and repealing the scheduled tax hikes altogether in this lame-duck session, and tell Reid to save his massive wish list for government expansion for the next session of Congress.