Senate to begin debating budget Tuesday, cancels Saturday session

December 13, 2013

Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) (The Washington Post)

This item has been updated.

Breaking a political fever that has raged this week between Democrats and Republicans regarding changes in Senate procedure, Senate leaders agreed Friday to scrap a series of weekend votes and to begin debating a bipartisan budget agreement next Tuesday.

The Senate will hold one final vote Friday to confirm Heather Higginbottom to serve as a deputy secretary of state for management and then set up votes to be held Monday evening to confirm President Obama's pick to serve as an assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern Affairs and Jeh C. Johnson to lead the Department of Homeland Security. Due to procedural rules, the Senate will be open and in session Sunday if senators wish to speak, but no votes will be cast, Reid said.

Debate on the budget agreement, passed overwhelmingly in the House on Thursday night, will begin Tuesday, Reid added.

The agreement came hours after senators showed up to an almost-empty U.S. Capitol Friday morning as a peach sky crested over the U.S. Supreme Court across the street. Shortly after 7 a.m., senators voted 79 to 6 to confirm Deborah Lee James to serve as the next secretary of the Air Force. She would be the second woman to hold the position.

After the vote, Reid said he would work with Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to find a way to avoid a Saturday session.

"There’s been lots of requests from lots of people to do other things," Reid said.

The "other things" include passage of a budget agreement and the annual defense policy bill — both of which passed with overwhelming bipartisan support Thursday night in the House. Reid said that the Senate also will vote to confirm Janet Yellen to lead the Federal Reserve and another nominee to serve on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District Circuit before adjourning on Dec. 20.

Senators have been enduring late nights and early morning since Wednesday as Reid has sought to use new rules enacted last month that allow for most nominees to be confirmed without having to clear a 60-vote hurdle. Republicans strongly objected to the change and have been using one of the most valuable procedural tactics remaining at their disposal: Time.

This week, GOP leaders have declined to yield back hours of time set aside for each nominee, as historically has been the practice. The decision forced Reid to call votes at odd hours on Thursday — 1 a.m., 9 a.m., 7:30 p.m., 9:30 p.m. — and the 7 a.m. Friday vote.

During the vote early Friday, several senators were heard discussing the possibility of being able to cancel the Saturday session. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) appeared especially upset about the early morning call time and prospects of a weekend session as he was seen angrily discussing the situation with Reid, Sens. Angus King (I-Maine), Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) and Thomas R. Carper (D-Del.).

After the vote, senators darted from the Senate Chamber. Sens. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) and Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) walked out together.

"It's time to go to the gym, Chuck," Moran said to Schumer.

"It's time to go. That's where I'm going," Schumer said in reply. "I just haven't had my coffee."

Updated 11:15 a.m.

Ed O’Keefe is a congressional reporter with The Washington Post and covered the 2008 and 2012 presidential and congressional elections.
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