WASHINGTON The Senate gave final passage early Saturday morning to a stopgap spending measure that will ensure the government’s lights stay on through March and then closed the doors of one of the least productive Congresses in generations until after the November elections.
The final vote on the spending bill, 62-30, was gaveled shut at 1:16 a.m., the comfortable tally belying the rancor that led up to it. The 112th Congress lurched to the exits the way it started – amid partisan acrimony and backbiting even within the parties.
House Democrats marched to the House steps Friday, chanted, “work, work, work,” and demanded lawmakers stay in town to finish unfinished business like a farm bill to take the place of agriculture laws that expire at the end of the month. They said no Congress since 1960 had recessed this early for the campaign season.
Then they headed home.
Speaker John Boehner of Ohio growled that they should have protested on the Senate steps, where House bills have gone to die since the Republicans took control. The last House bill to pass was much like many others, a largely partisan measure to thwart Obama administration efforts, delicately named the “Stop the War on Coal Act.” It, too, will die in the Senate.
In that body, the war was as much within the Republican Party as it was between the opposing camps. That was because Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., had succeeded in going around his leadership and forcing a vote on legislation to cut off aid to Pakistan, Egypt and Libya until the countries prove they are working constructively with the United States.
Senators from both parties, backed by the Obama administration, voted it down 20 minutes after midnight Saturday, 10-81, saying it would be detrimental to U.S. foreign policy as Washington tries to steer the new governments of the Arab Spring toward democratic pluralism.
One particular provision of the Paul legislation would have mandated the cutoff of aid to any country where a U.S. embassy is attacked, an invitation to terrorists to attack U.S. diplomatic posts in friendly countries like Israel, said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.
The Senate did pass a nonbinding resolution expressing its opposition to allowing Iran to attain nuclear arms, 90-1. Paul, the lone “no” vote, denounced the measure as committing the country to pre-emptive war with the Islamic Republic.
Spending bill passes
The main order of business for the final round of predawn votes was the stopgap spending legislation to keep the government running on autopilot into next year.
The spending bill finances the government through March at an annual rate of $1.047 trillion, $4 billion more than spending for the fiscal year that ends Sept. 30. Total spending, including emergency, disaster and war spending, would be at an annualized rate of $1.15 trillion, $26.5 billion less than this fiscal year, but most of that savings would come from lower war costs.
The level corresponds with the cap set in the Budget Control Act of 2011 that resolved the impasse over the federal debt ceiling, but it is $19 billion higher than the budget drafted by Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, the Republican vice-presidential nominee, and passed by the House this spring.