Senate Passes $1.1 Trillion Spending Bill, Joining House – New York Times

Senator Ted Cruz, Republican of Texas, right center, forced a delay on a vote in the Senate on Friday night.
December 13, 2014

WASHINGTON — After moments of high drama, dry process and acrimony, the Senate passed a sweeping $1.1 trillion spending package Saturday night, abruptly ending several days of chaotic legislative maneuvers and clearing the bill for President Obama to sign.

The legislation, which will fund most of the government through the fiscal year that ends in September, passed in a bipartisan vote, 56 to 40, after a turbulent process — a fitting coda for a governing body that has often failed to govern.

The vote concluded a long day of brinkmanship, spurred by a legislative challenge to Mr. Obama’s executive action on immigration by Senator Ted Cruz, Republican of Texas, who helped force the Senate into a weekend session. By the end of the day, Mr. Cruz found himself isolated even from members of his own party.

“I don’t see what we’re achieving here,” Senator Jeff Flake, Republican of Arizona, said of Mr. Cruz’s strategy.

Throughout the day, lawmakers — many of whom had to cancel holiday plans — trudged to the Capitol to cast a monotonous series of more than two dozen procedural votes. (At one point, Democrats wheeled a piano into a spare room off the Senate floor, where they sang carols including, perhaps optimistically, “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.”)

The turmoil and infighting offered a glimpse into the dynamic between the two parties as well as the tensions among Republicans that are likely to erupt after they take control of the Senate in January.

In addition to funding core domestic government operations, the bill provides money for more military operations abroad and for combating the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.

Mr. Cruz and Senator Mike Lee, Republican of Utah, held up the spending bill to emphasize their objections to Mr. Obama’s executive action, which will allow as many five million undocumented immigrants to remain in the country.

Mr. Cruz ultimately failed to stop the spending bill, which will fund the Department of Homeland Security — the agency primarily responsible for carrying out the president’s immigration directive — through February.

By carving out more legislative time, Mr. Cruz inadvertently enabled the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, Democrat of Nevada, to advance two dozen nominations, including several contentious ones that would otherwise have faced a more difficult confirmation process.

“It will have the end result of causing nominees who I think are not well qualified to be confirmed, so I don’t understand the approach that he is taking,” said Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine. “And I think it’s very unfortunate and counterproductive.”

Mr. Cruz did manage to secure a vote on a point of order raising constitutional concerns about the president’s authority to defer deportations for undocumented immigrants. But the Senate roundly rejected his point, with 20 of his fellow Republicans voting against.

Senators spent most of Saturday plowing through votes on presidential nominees — a process known as a Vote-O-Rama.

The list of nominations included Antony J. Blinken as deputy secretary of state, the department’s No. 2 post; Carolyn W. Colvin to lead the Social Security Administration; Dr. Vivek H. Murthy as surgeon general; and Sarah R. Saldaña to head Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The spending bill greatly increases federal limits on individual contributions to national political parties and relaxes restrictions on big banks’ trading of certain risky financial instruments — provisions that infuriated liberal Democrats. Twenty-one Democrats, one Independent and 18 Republicans voted against the bill.

The legislation provides $64 billion for military campaigns in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and other countries. It allows certain multi-employer pension plans to shore up their finances by cutting retirees’ benefits. And it reduces the budget for the Environmental Protection Agency, the Internal Revenue Service and other agencies out of favor with Republicans. But Democrats staved off deep cuts to many of their favorite health and education programs.

Mr. Cruz’s last-minute ploy surprised even Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the minority leader, who had left the Capitol on Friday evening telling reporters that he would see them Monday. The maneuver seems likely to further elevate Mr. Cruz’s popularity and credibility among the conservative base, boosting excitement for him should he seek his party’s presidential nomination in 2016.

But only Democrats seemed able to wrest a modicum of enjoyment from the proceedings.

As Senator John Cornyn of Texas, the No. 2 Senate Republican, struggled to explain to a group of reporters just what Mr. Cruz had hoped to achieve, Senator Cory Booker, Democrat of New Jersey, loped by and clapped him on the shoulder.

“Let me know if you need backup,” Mr. Booker said with a grin.

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