As session ends with GOP blocks, legislators agree on one thing: Going home

Christine O'Donnell is the latest in a string of surprising tea party-backed Senate candidates that are still standing after a tumultuous primary season.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 30, 2010; 6:36 PM

Congressional Democrats arrived back on Capitol Hill two weeks ago from their summer recess with a full slate of bills they planned to pass, notably one to prevent the elimination of a tax cut for millions of Americans.

But facing internal divisions, opposition from the GOP and members eager to head back to the campaign trail, Democrats backed down.

Just after midnight Thursday, they passed a stopgap measure that will fund the federal government through November, because the current appropriations were set to expire Sept. 30. And with that must-pass legislation done, members went home and aren't due back until Nov. 15, two weeks after Election Day.

The provision passed by a vote of 69 to 30 in the Senate and 288 to 194 in the House, with most Republicans in both chambers opposing it.

By Thursday afternoon, after dueling events by House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), the tense Capitol Hill policy debate of the past two years was over - until after the midterm elections.

"We may not agree on much, but I think with rare exception all 100 senators want to get out of here and get back to their states," said Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.), who is now free to focus completely on his own tight reelection race.

The Democrats left town without voting on whether to extend the tax cuts the George W. Bush administration passed in 2001 and 2003. The party is divided between members who want to maintain current tax levels for all income and those who want to increase them for income above $250,000 a year, as President Obama has advocated.

Unable to get support from any Senate Republicans, Democrats couldn't push through a bill to repeal the "don't ask, don't tell" policy, which bars gay people from serving openly in the military, or a provision that Democrats said would limit the outsourcing of jobs abroad.

Republicans would not compromise on any of the issues over the past two weeks and attacked Democrats for ending the session without voting on the tax cuts. House Republicans even tried to block the formal resolution that allows the chamber to adjourn, leading to an unusual 210-209 vote in which 39 Democrats joined nearly all the Republicans in opposition.

Tax rates will increase next year if Congress does not address the issue, although both parties expect the tax cuts to be extended when members return after the elections.

"A vote to adjourn this Congress without an up-or-down vote to stop all the tax hikes is a vote to raise taxes and destroy more jobs," Boehner said. Reid said Republicans were to blame for the lack of progress on the issues, because they used the threat of filibusters to bring Congress to "a screeching halt."

"When we come back this fall, the election will be over," Reid said. "I hope that it also means that Republicans will finally be able to put the American people ahead of their short-term political interests and ambitions."

By delaying several issues, Congress will have to address a series of complicated challenges in the "lame duck" session after Election Day: the tax cuts, "don't ask, don't tell" and the appropriations bills that fund the government.

In addition, a bipartisan commission appointed by Obama to reduce the federal budget deficit is expected to issue a report in November, and Congress might decide to vote on that commission's ideas as well.

Even though they hadn't accomplished all their goals, Democrats seemed eager to leave Washington.

"There was relief in the room," said Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), when asked about a closed-door meeting of Senate Democrats on Wednesday.

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