The Senate moved closer Friday to passing a $1.1 trillion bill to fund almost all of the government through most of 2015. But detractors on the left and the right were likely to delay final approval of the sweeping measure.
The opponents, who have been holding out for a chance to amend the legislation, have been shut down by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, and held little chance of scuttling the omnibus spending bill, which must pass quickly to avoid a government shutdown. But they prompted the House to pass another funding extension as a backstop, giving senators more time to work through the political debate and procedural hurdles.
On Friday afternoon, Reid made his initial moves on the spending package, which narrowly cleared the House on Thursday. While that technically put the bill on track for passage early next week, Reid hoped that the chamber would approve it sooner.
“I would hope cooler heads prevail and we can move forward and get this done,” he said on the Senate floor.
The near defeat of the spending measure in the House renewed focus in the Senate on the odd-bedfellows political coalition that almost torpedoed the bill.
On the right, the opposition was headed by those who wanted to use the bill to confront President Barack Obama on his immigration executive actions. Liberal outrage has centered on a provision that would loosen a key regulation on big banks.
The populist anti-Wall Street faction was led by freshman Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.
“Enough is enough,” she said on the Senate floor Friday. “Washington already works really well for the billionaires and big corporations.”
While these opponents of the bill were clinging to slim hopes that they could derail the legislation, they stopped short of pledging to block it.
Still, the House approved a second stopgap funding extension as an insurance policy against delays in the upper chamber. The move cleared the way for Congress to work until Wednesday night, if needed, to complete its consideration of the measure, which would fund the government through the end of next summer.
The one exception is the Department of Homeland Security, which is funded only through late winter amid the fight over Obama’s decision to halt the deportations of millions of undocumented immigrants.
“I think it is critical for the Senate to have an opportunity to have a clear up or down vote on funding President Obama’s illegal executive amnesty. I am using every tool available to help bring about that vote,” said Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas.
But pressed by reporters on whether he was prepared to block the spending bill, Cruz hustled onto the Senate floor without answering the question.
Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., another critic, conceded Friday morning that strong GOP support for the spending bill in the House on Thursday night makes it less likely for his perspective to prevail.
“I adhere to the view that Congress should not fund a program that we think is unworthy and unlawful, but that’s been decided by the House,” he said.
Warren sparked a Democratic revolt in the House this week by speaking out against the legislation. But she hadn’t indicated by late Friday afternoon whether she might seek to block the bill or run out the clock.
Another outspoken liberal opponent, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., also declined to say whether he would filibuster.
Warren teamed up with Sen. David Vitter, R-La., to try to fight the banking provision. The two introduced an amendment to remove the language from the bill that loosens the restrictions on banks when it comes to risky derivative transactions.
Meanwhile, Sessions, Cruz, Vitter and Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, were hoping to force a vote on their proposal to defund parts of the federal government tied to Obama’s immigration actions. A Senate GOP aide familiar with that plan said they remained optimistic that there would be a vote.
Even as the Senate closed in on a spending bill vote, Reid said the chamber would probably have to return early next week to complete several items. Those include votes on a batch of judicial nominations, a terrorism insurance bill and extending a collection of tax breaks.
“We’re not going to finish tonight,” Reid said on the Senate floor.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who is set to succeed Reid as the majority leader when the Republicans take control of the chamber early next year, disagreed with the assessment.
“I want everybody to understand that it’s possible to finish tonight,” McConnell said.
In other business, legislation setting Pentagon policy for the next year passed the Senate on Friday. Senators also confirmed two members of a federal broadcasting board and five ambassadors to Cape Verde, Iceland, Palau and other places.
In an effort to try to ensure passage of the spending bill, Obama reiterated his support, saying, “This, by definition, was a compromise bill.”
“Had I been able to draft my own legislation, get it passed without any Republican votes, I suspect it would be slightly different,” the president said later. “That is not the circumstance we find ourselves in, and I think what the American people very much are looking for is responsible governance and the willingness to compromise.”
Speaking on the Senate floor after Warren on Friday evening, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., warned opponents of the bill against blowing it up.
Graham pledged to vote for the bill, even as he acknowledged “knowing it’s not perfect.”
One lawmaker who appeared to be tiring of all the extended talks was Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.
“It’s ridiculous,” he told reporters outside the Senate chamber. “A lame-duck session after the American people have spoken.”
Copyright © 2014, Chicago Tribune
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