Senate Push on Final Spending Bill Thwarted by Disputes

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The Senate reached a deal to vote tonight on passage of a $1.1 trillion bill to fund the U.S. government after Republican Ted Cruz and other opponents of the measure abandoned delaying tactics.

The agreement would allow Cruz of Texas to press his point on the Senate floor. Cruz, who wants to block funding for President Barack Obama’s immigration orders, has used procedural moves to delay a final vote on the measure, drawing criticism from many of his colleagues including Republicans.

Cruz’s spokeswoman, Amanda Carpenter, said the Texas senator may raise a parliamentary objection to the bill, questioning the constitutionality of Obama’s action on immigration. The effort has little chance of success.

Democrats said Cruz’s use of parliamentary delays this weekend played into their hands, giving Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid time to advance a series of Obama’s nominations that Republicans had intended to delay.

“You should have an end goal in sight if you’re going to do these type of things, and I don’t see an end goal other than just irritating a lot of people,” said Senator Orrin Hatch, a Utah Republican.

Another Republican, Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona, said the strategy doesn’t bode well for the new Congress. “I fail to see what conservative ends were achieved,” he told reporters.

Cruz -- with an assist from Utah Republican Mike Lee -- forced the Senate into a rare Saturday session after some lawmakers had already left town for the weekend.

Nominations Votes

To fill up time until Senate rules allowed them to take a vote on advancing the spending legislation, lawmakers spent the day moving through procedural votes on executive-branch nominees.

The threat of a lapse in government funding was removed when the Senate unanimously passed a short-term spending bill to fund U.S. operations through Dec. 17.

The final spending measure would fund most of the government through September 2015. It puts off a confrontation over immigration until early 2015 as the Department of Homeland Security, responsible for immigration policy, would be financed only through Feb. 27.

In a preview of the type of rebellion that could create headaches next year, Lee blocked a procedural motion to take up the spending bill after McConnell, apparently, thought he’d reached a deal with Reid. McConnell had already left the Capitol when Cruz, around 10 p.m. yesterday, took to the floor to criticize McConnell.

Immigration Action

Cruz and Lee demanded that the Senate include a provision in the spending bill to defund the president’s executive action allowing as many as 5 million undocumented immigrants to stay in the U.S. That fight almost derailed the legislation in the Republican-led House, forcing House Speaker John Boehner to turn to Democrats for votes.

It was only after a five-hour standoff on Dec. 11 -- including phone calls to hesitant Democrats by Obama and some Cabinet members -- that a handful of Democrats agreed to vote for the House bill and it passed, 219-206, just hours before funding was set to lapse.

Democrats led by Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts oppose a banking provision in the bill that they see as a giveaway to Wall Street banks including Citigroup Inc., urging lawmakers to take it out.

Warren’s Opposition

“Washington already works really well for the billionaires and the big corporations and the lawyers and lobbyists,” Warren said on the Senate floor last night. “But what about the families who lost their homes or their jobs or their retirement savings the last time Citi bet big on derivatives and lost?”

The banking language, insisted upon by Republicans, would ease rules enacted to protect taxpayers against bank losses after souring derivatives trades helped cause the 2008 financial crisis.

Before adjourning for the year, the Senate also plans to vote on renewal of a group of expired tax breaks and terrorism risk insurance, as well as confirming nominees to executive and judicial posts. The House has finished its work for the year.

Cruz and Lee threatened to use all possible procedural tactics to add language to the spending measure blocking implementation of Obama’s immigration order. The president said Nov. 20 that he would temporarily halt deportations for about 5 million undocumented immigrants, a move Republicans, including Cruz, describe as amnesty.

Washington Return

Their moves meant many senators had to make a quick trip back to Washington. Senator Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat, said he was arriving into Pittsburgh to celebrate Christmas with his grandchildren when he got the call to return. Senator Jeanne Shaheen, a New Hampshire Democrat, had just landed in Manchester before returning to Washington on the next flight. Democrats were blunt in their criticism of Cruz’s strategy.

“This is about getting headlines for a handful of senators and nothing else,” said Democratic Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut.

It wasn’t the first time Cruz has interrupted the parliamentary process to make clear his opposition to legislation. Last year, he led the drive to defund Obamacare that resulted in a 16-day partial government shutdown.

A deal on the spending bill was announced Dec. 9 after Senate Democratic negotiators accepted the banking rule changes and Republican demands on other policy provisions.

Though Democrats weren’t pleased about some of the provisions -- including a measure that would increase tenfold the amount wealthy Americans could make in campaign contributions -- they said they beat back dozens of others that Republicans had sought. Those include revisions focused on environmental and labor protections.

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