After a day of tense maneuvering and partisan finger-pointing, the Senate approved a sweeping $1.1 trillion bill late Saturday to fund most of the federal government through September 2015.
By a 56 to 40 vote, senators passed the same budget legislation that the House of Representatives approved Thursday night. The bill now goes to President Barack Obama for his expected signature.
The vote averted a shutdown of parts of the government, which was supposed to run out of money Thursday night and then again Saturday night. Both times, lawmakers voted to give themselves a little more time, then found ways to muscle through ideological complaints about the compromise spending package first from the left on Thursday and from the right Saturday.
The brinkmanship Saturday– which at one point looked to last through the weekend – epitomized the 113th Congress, regarded as one of the least effective in U.S. history and a fiercely partisan body that waits until the final hours to pass must-do legislation.
The Senate had hoped to leave for the year Friday, depending on members to easily approve a carefully-crafted compromise bill.
Instead, it spent Saturday taking procedural vote after procedural vote. While that was going on, Republicans and Democrats pointed fingers at each other Saturday, each saying the other was delaying the process.
Some Republicans, led by Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, balked because they wanted a vote on a measure protesting Obama’s November immigration order. Some Democrats were wary of the measure’s easing of a Wall Street regulation. There were disagreements about other pending legislation and Obama nominees.
“It doesn’t have to be this way,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., told the Senate as it began the series of Saturday votes. He charged “Senate Republicans are forcing completely unnecessary procedural votes just to waste time and keep us from funding the United States government.” Republicans did not respond on the Senate floor.
In the end, 31 Democrats, 24 Republicans, and independent Sen. Angus King of Maine voted for the massive spending bill while 21 Democrats, 18 Republicans and independent Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont voted against it.
A vote to limit debate on the overall spending bill, which funds most of the government through Sept. 30, 2015, came after a slew of procedural votes.
“There are many things in this bill that Democrats would not have included had we written the bill,” Reid said. “But I didn’t write this bill. Senate Democrats did not write this bill. It’s a compromise.”
Democrats still run the Senate, and Reid urged everyone to look at what the bill does achieve.
“We can return home and tell our constituents that we passed legislation that keeps America safe, makes college more affordable, and spurs the economy,” he said.
Saturday, he charged, “a small group of Senate Republicans has determined that it is in their political interests to hold this legislation hostage.”
The 1,603 page measure will fund most of the government through the end of the current fiscal year on Sept. 30, 2015. The Department of Homeland Security, which enforces immigration laws, is funded through Feb. 27, 2015. Giving a shorter budget to department will allow the new Republican-controlled Senate to hone in on any money being used to enforce Obama’s November executive action halting deportation for more than 4 million undocumented immigrants.
Still, Cruz and some other conservatives wanted to act now to try to stop Obama’s action.
“Before the United States Senate is a bill that does nothing, absolutely nothing to stop President Obama’s illegal and unconstitutional amnesty,” Cruz told the Senate. “The president’s executive amnesty is lawless and unconstitutional.”
In a last-ditch effort, Cruz tried to block the bill from moving forward by raising an immigration-related parliamentary appeal that failed when 74 senators voted against and only 22 supported it. All 22 yes votes were Republican.
The regulatory change also stirred impassioned debate. “A vote for this bill is a vote for future taxpayer bailouts of Wall Street,” said Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., a longtime activist for regulatory overhaul of financial institutions.
“As you head out the door and a spending bill must be passed, are you making it a priority to do Wall Street’s bidding?” she asked. “Who do you work for, Wall Street or the American people?”
Also causing controversy was a provision allowing people to give far more than is now permitted to the Democratic and Republican congressional campaign committees.
Overall, the bill has $521 billion for defense and $492 billion for non-defense items, spending levels limited by last year’s bipartisan budget agreement.
Also in the measure is additional funding to help thwart the threat from the Islamic State as well as $5.4 billion to help ease the Ebola crisis.