Senate Clears Spending Bill as Cruz Abandons Challenge

Senator Ted Cruz, a Republican from Texas, speaks during an interview in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, Jan. 30, 2014.

Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

The Senate passed a $1.1 trillion bill to fund most of the U.S. government through September and avert a shutdown after defeating an effort by Ted Cruz that previewed a potential 2015 Republican fight over immigration.

The 56-40 vote during an uncommon Saturday session follows House passage of the spending bill on Dec. 11 and sends the measure to President Barack Obama for his signature.

Cruz of Texas, like a number of House Republicans, had sought to use the measure, H.R. 83, to block funding of Obama’s actions allowing millions of undocumented immigrants to stay in the U.S. The bill also drew “no” votes from Democrats who opposed language easing bank rules and allowing larger financial contributions to political parties.

The measure was “poisoned by special favors flagrantly contrary to the public interest,” Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, who voted against the bill, said in a statement.

The vote ended a weeks-long drama over immigration, government spending and banking rules as Senate Democrats prepare to turn the majority over to Republicans in January. Republicans also will have an expanded House majority, and this month’s fight previewed the party’s plans to try to roll back government regulations in 2015.

While Republican leaders insisted they wouldn’t allow a government shutdown like the one in October 2013 that stemmed from an effort to defund Obamacare, Congress was just a few hours from a lapse in government funding Dec. 11 when lawmakers passed a stopgap measure to give the Senate time to act.

Vote Breakdown

Thirty-two Democrats and 24 Republicans voted for the spending bill in the Senate, while 22 Democrats and 18 Republicans opposed it.

Shortly before the final vote, the Senate rejected, 22-74, a parliamentary objection raised by Cruz questioning the constitutionality of Obama’s action on immigration, which the senator and other Republicans call amnesty.

Cruz said in a statement before the vote that his proposal allows Republicans to show “they are committed to ending Obama’s amnesty once and for all in the next Congress.”

“If we agree it is indeed unconstitutional, we have no business funding it when the GOP controls Congress last year,” he said.

Democrats said Cruz’s use of parliamentary delaying tactics 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.

End Goal

“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 the Saturday session after some lawmakers had already left town for the weekend, requiring them to return to Washington.

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

The threat of a lapse in government funding was removed when the Senate earlier in the day unanimously passed a short-term spending bill, identical to one passed by the House, that would finance the government though Dec. 17.

Incentive Removed

Even without an agreement from Cruz, the Senate could have voted Dec. 15 on the full government-financing measure. That removed an incentive for Democrats to bargain with him.

In the type of rebellion that could create headaches next year, Lee yesterday 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 took to the floor to criticize him.

Cruz and Lee demanded the Senate include a provision in the spending bill to defund the president’s Nov. 20 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 enough Democrats agreed to vote for the House bill and it passed, 219-206, just hours before funding was set to lapse.

Homeland Security

While funding most of the government through the entire fiscal year, the spending bill funds the Department of Homeland Security -- responsible for immigration -- only through Feb. 27. Republicans plan to use that agency’s spending bill early next year to try to block the government from carrying out Obama’s immigration orders.

The final bill included a banking provision opposed by Democrats led by Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts who said it was a giveaway to Wall Street banks including Citigroup Inc.

“Washington already works really well for the billionaires and the big corporations and the lawyers and lobbyists,” Warren said on the Senate floor yesterday. “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?”

Derivative Trades

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 had threatened to use all possible procedural tactics to add language to the spending measure blocking implementation of Obama’s immigration order.

“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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