Congress

Senate approves bill to keep government open 5 more days

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., celebrates with his supporters at an election night party in Louisville, Ky., Nov. 4, 2014.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., celebrates with his supporters at an election night party in Louisville, Ky., Nov. 4, 2014. AP

The Senate’s bid to keep the federal government funded was mired in procedural knots Saturday, an impasse likely to push a final vote on the $1.1 trillion spending bill to dawn on Monday.

One vote mattered most Saturday: The Senate approved, by voice vote, a stopgap funding bill to keep the government running through Wednesday. Withit out, funding would have run out at midnight. The House of Representatives had voted for the measure Friday.

The chaos was a fitting end to a Congress that has been largely stuck over major legislation and has frequently had trouble getting passage of routine measures.

The Senate had hoped to leave for the year Friday. Instead, it plans to spend Saturday taking procedural vote after procedural vote, perhaps as many as 40, a process which could last past midnight.

In the meantime, 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.

A vote to limit debate on the overall pending bill, which funds most of the government through Sept. 30, 2015, could come at 1 a.m. Sunday. If debate is limited, the final vote on the spending plan is expected around 7 a.m. Monday.

Republicans have balked because they want a vote on a measure protesting President Barack Obama’s November immigration order. Some Democrats are wary of the measure’s easing of some financial regulatory laws. There were disagreements about other pending legislation and Obama nominees.

Reid proposed late Friday having the Senate leave until Monday, so negotiations could proceed. But conservative Republicans said no, they wanted the Senate to stay in session.

"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," Sen. Ted Cruz,R-Texas, told the Senate. "The president’s executive amnesty is lawless and unconstitutional." Cruz and his allies want the Senate to vote on immigration policy, a big reason for the Saturday session.

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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