The Senate closed the Capitol on Saturday after sending President Obama a spending bill that will make sure the government won’t shut down Oct. 1, the start of the new budget year.
The measure passed early Saturday by a 62-30 vote — and then lawmakers skipped out of town to campaign.
Left behind for a postelection session is a pile of unfinished business on the budget and taxes, farm policy and legislation to save the Postal Service from insolvency.
The only must-do item on the agenda was a six-month spending measure to fulfill the bare minimum of Congress’ responsibilities by keeping the government running after the budget year ends on Sept. 30.
The 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 a 0.6% increase from current spending rates, which represents a defeat for House Republicans, who had sought to cut about 2% below the budget deal and shift $8 billion from domestic programs to the Pentagon.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) also relented to a demand by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) for a vote on suspending foreign aid to the governments of Libya, Egypt and Pakistan. Paul only got 10 votes. But Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) won approval of a nonbinding resolution supporting steps to make sure Iran doesn’t develop a nuclear weapon.
It’s the earliest preelection exit by Congress from Washington since 1960, though lawmakers will return after the Nov. 6 vote to deal with unfinished work.
The approval rating for the current Congress dropped to 13% in a Gallup poll this month. That was the lowest ever for an election year.
The exit from Washington leaves the bulk of Congress’ agenda for a post-Nov. 6 session in which it’s hoped lawmakers will be liberated from the election-year paralysis that has brought Capitol Hill to a near halt.
Topping the lame-duck agenda will be the George W. Bush-era tax cuts, which are due to expire Dec. 31, and more than $100 billion in across-the-board spending cuts set to strike at the same time. The cuts are punishment for the failure of last year’s deficit “super committee” to strike a deal.
Also left in limbo is the farm bill, stalled in the House by opposition from conservative Republicans who think it doesn’t cut farm subsidies and food stamps enough and Democrats who think its food stamp cuts are too harsh.
The current farm act expires on Sept. 30, but the lapse won’t have much practical effect in the near term.
The lack of productivity of the 112th Congress was the result of divided government and bitter partisanship.