It should have been easy, but nothing in the Senate seems to be these days.
The outcome is inevitable, but the Senate is unable to come to an agreement on when and how to vote on a six-month spending bill as it became wrapped up in disagreements over an amendment proposed by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) to cut U.S. aid to Egypt, Libya and Pakistan and political posturing in the hotly-contested U.S. Senate races in Massachusetts and Montana.
There appears to be no doubt on the final passage of a bill to provide funding for government agencies when the fiscal year ends Sept. 30. Federal spending would be capped at $1.047 trillion, a limit agreed to last summer as part of the bipartisan debt ceiling negotiations. The bill cleared a key procedural vote Wednesday.
But Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) began threatening to hold votes on final passage this weekend after Republicans objected to his plans to hold a vote on Paul’s proposal.
Reid later offered to quickly hold a final vote on the bill and announced plans to vote on a bill cosponsored by Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) that would expand hunting rights on federal lands. Tester’s bill, which has bipartisan support, differs from a House bill sponsored by Tester’s opponent in the Montana Senate race, Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-Mont.).
Amid all the squabbling, Sen. Scott Brown (D-Mass.) suggested to the Boston Globe Thursday afternoon that he might miss his debate Thursday night with Democratic opponent Elizabeth Warren if Democrats scheduled votes later Thursday.
“Bottom line is, the people have sent me down here to do my job — and that’s to vote,” Brown told the Globe.
Democratic aides balked — and Reid appeared again on the Senate floor soon after.
“We have no more votes today,” he said. “No more votes today. It’s obvious to me what’s going on. I’ve been to a few of these rodeos. It is obvious there is a big stall taking place. One of the senators who had a debate tonight doesn’t want to debate. Well, he can’t use the Senate as an excuse. There will be no more votes today.”
(Debate organizers said the evening’s proceedings would continue as scheduled, and Brown was en route to Boston.)
All the squabbling suggested that the Senate would be ending the day — and its proceedings before Election Day — much as the rest of the year has transpired: Must-pass bills eventually pass, but not before both parties lob accusations and play tricks with Senate procedure.
Whenever the spending bill passes, the Senate then plans to adjourn until mid-November after failing to complete work on several other pressing issues, including passage of a new five-year Farm Bill — or at least temporary relief for drought-stricken farmers — plans to overhaul the cash-strapped U.S. Postal Service, reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act or complete investigations into the recent deadly attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya or the alleged leaks by Obama administration officials to news outlets regarding sensitive national security operations.
The inaction — and public opinion polls giving Congress an approval rating in the low teens — prompted Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) this week to label the current congressional session “the worst ever.”
McCain joined with his Republican colleagues earlier Thursday in a bit of political theater designed to draw attention to concerns about inaction on several issues, including the failure to pass the annual defense authorization bill, a federal budget, energy legislation or proposals to replace the billions of dollars in automatic spending cuts set to take affect Jan. 2.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said the inaction “is meant to help the president, not the American people. So our problems have only gotten worse, and the Senate has of course completely broken down as an institution.”
But Reid dismissed the Republican complaints as “a remarkable show of hubris or arrogance.” He listed a series of measures he said were blocked in the last two years by the GOP, including multiple jobs bills and proposed tax cuts for middle-income families.
“They’ve created the fact that we haven’t gotten anything done,” Reid said of Republicans. They’re good at it, from stopping a bill.”
Staff writer Rosalind S. Helderman contributed to this report.
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