Thursday, December 5, 2013
From staff and news services
WASHINGTON - In one of their final actions before leaving town to finish campaigning, senators voted early Saturday morning to approve a temporary spending measure that eliminates the threat of a politically embarrassing government shutdown one month before Election Day.
Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins
But the legislation passed without the support of Maine Republican Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, both of whom cast votes against the stopgap measure to signal their dissatisfaction with Congress' inability to pass complete budgets. The budget extension now goes to President Obama for his signature.
"It's inconceivable and incomprehensible that we would be at a point here in the United States Senate where we are considering a six-month continuing resolution without having passed a budget, without having enacted any one of the 12 appropriation bills and spending so little time in session," Snowe said following an earlier vote on the budget resolution.
The 62-30 vote came a few minutes shy of 1 a.m. after Democratic and Republican Senate leaders spent much of the day -- and the week -- battling over unrelated bills and staving off a one-man filibuster by Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., who was trying to limit U.S. aid to Libya, Pakistan and Egypt.
Another bill relating to sportsmen also slowed the process on Friday. Although it appears to enjoy strong bipartisan support, the measure became entangled in pre-election politicking as both sides attempted to keep the other from scoring points with voters.
The only must-do item on the get-out-of-Dodge agenda was a six-month spending measure to fulfill the bare minimum of Congress' responsibilities by keeping the government running after the current budget year ends on Sept. 30.
The spending measure permits spending on agency operating budgets at levels agreed to under last summer's hard-fought budget and debt deal between Obama and Capitol Hill Republicans. That's an 0.6 percent increase from current spending rates, which represents a defeat for House Republicans, who tried to cut about 2 percent from the budget deal and shift $8 billion from domestic programs to the Pentagon.
Earlier in the week, Collins said in a Senate floor speech that Congress' failure to complete any work on the budget bills would only reinforce the public's perception of gridlock in Washington. Although she said she opposed a government shutdown, Collins said Congress was abdicating its responsibility.
Collins laid much of the blame on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., who has not scheduled floor debate on any of the 11 budget bills that passed the Senate Appropriations Committee, on which she sits. The House passed seven of its 12 budget bills.
"Given the state of our nation's economy, and the need to ensure that tax dollars are wisely and appropriately spent, it's unacceptable that we would simply agree to put our government on autopilot rather than work together to establish priorities and to make the tough choices to evaluate programs and restrain spending," Collins said.
After the final early-morning votes, senators followed their House counterparts and left town until after the November elections. The Associated Press reported it is the earliest pre-election exit by Congress from Washington since 1960 and comes amid one of the most partisan, least productive sessions in recent memory.
The approval rating for the current Congress in a Gallup poll earlier this month sank to just 13 percent, the lowest ever for an election year. The GOP-controlled House and Democratic Senate managed to come together with Obama to enact just 173 new laws. More are coming after the election, but the current tally is roughly half the output of a typical Congress.
Snowe, who is retiring in January after more than 30 years in Congress, recalled that in 2000 -- also a presidential election year -- Congress was in session until the week before Election Day. And in 1990, lawmakers were in session most weekends before the election, she said.
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