With final Senate votes cast 1 a.m. Saturday morning, Congress has concluded work and departed Washington, putting off major decisions on tax and budget issues until after the November election.
The session ended on terrain familiar from the past 18 months of gridlocked action — with both parties blaming each other for not getting more done and a procedural debate in the Senate delaying final action on a bill over which there was no big dispute.
The Senate early Saturday approved a six-month spending measure to fund the government when the fiscal year ends Sept. 30 on a 62 to 30 vote. The measure, which the House approved last week, would spare Washington the specter of a government shutdown in the weeks leading up to the election.
Approval of the must-pass funding bill marked Congress’s only significant accomplishment during an eight-day work period that followed the August recess.
The unusual post-midnight votes were required after a now-common procedural dispute delayed votes that senators had once hoped to conclude Thursday.
First, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) asked to be allowed a vote on an amendment that would cut off foreign aide to Pakistan, Egypt and Libya. That vote failed early Saturday.
Then Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) pushed off Thursday votes because he said that GOP Sen. Scott Brown would use the floor action as an excuse to avoid a scheduled debate with Democrat Elizabeth Warren in their Massachusetts Senate race.
Then Reid clashed with Republicans about whether to hold a vote on a package of measures sponsored by Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) to improve access to federal land for hunters. The legislation could boost Tester’s chances in his reelection battle against Rep. Denny Rehberg (R). Senators ultimately agreed to hold a procedural vote on Tester’s bill.
Although Congress always ends work in election years to allow members to return home to campaign, this year marks its earliest departure in decades.
House Democrats took to their chamber’s front steps Friday to accuse GOP leaders of leaving town with unfinished business. In the Senate, Republicans said Democratic leaders were to blame. Lawmakers will take up series of weighty decisions in a lame-duck session after the November vote.
They will then face the looming “fiscal cliff,” an end-of-year deadline when taxes will rise and deep spending cuts will automatically take effect without congressional action.
The troubled postal service will need attention. The Violence Against Women Act has not been reauthorized. And, problematically for several lawmakers in tough election fights in agricultural states, a Senate-approved five-year farm bill remains stalled in the House.