Politics & Government

After day of tense wrangling, Senate passes $1.1 trillion ‘cromnibus’ bill

The U.S. Capitol awaits President Obama's State of the Union address
The U.S. Capitol awaits President Obama's State of the Union address McClatchy

After a day of tense procedural maneuvering and partisan finger-pointing, the Senate approved a sweeping $1.1 trillion bill to fund most of the federal government through September 2015.

By a 56 to 40 vote, senators passed the so-called ‘Cromnibus’ legislation that the House of Representatives approved Thursday night. The bill now awaits President Barack Obama’s signature.

The government was poised to shut down at midnight Saturday, but senators earlier in the day passed a four-day stopgap measure by voice vote then reached a deal to clear a path for the ‘cromnibus’ for a final vote.

Still, Saturday’s chaos epitomized the 113th Congress, regarded as one of the least effective in U.S. history, 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. 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.

"It doesn’t have to be this way," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, 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.

Some Republicans, led by Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, balked because they wanted a vote on a measure protesting President Barack Obama’s November immigration order. Some Democrats were wary of the measure’s easing of some financial regulatory laws. There were disagreements about other pending legislation and Obama nominees.

"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.

Republicans are angry about Obama’s November executive action halting deportation for more than 4 million undocumented immigrants.

"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 a constitutional point of order against it that failed when 74 senators voted against and only 22 supported it.

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.

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