Senate Reaches Agreement on $1.1 Trillion Spending Bill – 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 — The Senate late Saturday reached an agreement to vote on the $1.1 trillion spending bill that will avert a government shutdown and fund the government through the fiscal year, a measure that provides funding for war in the Middle East and critical government operations at home. The legislation is expected to pass, and President Obama has indicated that he will sign it.

Just as House Democrats had imperiled the budget deal that passed that chamber Thursday night, a few conservative Republicans in the Senate also forced a long march on the bill. Senators Ted Cruz of Texas and Mike Lee of Utah, in an effort to fight President Obama’s executive action on immigration, used procedural maneuvering Friday evening to prevent colleagues from reaching even a basic agreement on voting on the spending bill.

“Regrettably, a small group of Senate Republicans has determined it is in their political interest to hold this legislation hostage,” Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the majority leader, said as he opened Saturday’s session.

The maneuver by Mr. Cruz and Mr. Lee, however, not only wrecked their colleagues’ weekend schedules, but also may have backfired on Republicans. It enabled Mr. Reid to kick off votes on nearly two dozen nominations, pushing through more of Mr. Obama’s nominees, including several contentious ones, than Senate Democrats had originally hoped for — nominees who would have a far more difficult confirmation process when Republicans take control of the Senate in January.

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

On Saturday, senators began plowing their way through 40 procedural votes on 20 of the president’s nominations — a process, known as a vote-o-rama, that was expected to last well into the evening. Then, unless Senate leaders reach an agreement, members will vote early Sunday morning on a procedural measure that would allow them to vote on the spending bill as early as Monday morning.

With tempers already fraying just hours into the marathon session, Mr. Cruz’s colleagues were quick to lash out at him. “This is certainly a very poor way to end the year and will only confirm the public’s already low opinion of Congress,” Ms. Collins said.

Senator Jeff Flake, Republican of Arizona, called Mr. Cruz’s strategy “a little worrying. When you force a weekend session like this, we ought to be accomplishing something, and I just don’t see what that is.”

The list of nominations included Antony J. Blinken as deputy secretary of state, 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 Senate will also vote on more than a dozen judicial and other nominees.

By Saturday afternoon, the Senate had also approved a short-term measure sent over by the House that would fund the government through Wednesday, avoiding a shutdown.

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

But, much like the 16-day government shutdown over the president’s signature health care law that Mr. Cruz helped orchestrate last year, the move did little to endear him to his Republican colleagues, who openly criticized him in the media.

Only the Democrats seemed able to wrest a modicum of enjoyment from the day’s proceedings. Senator Benjamin L. Cardin, Democrat of Maryland, said that it was “inconvenient to be here voting around the clock” but that he was “kind of pleased at how it’s working out.” Mr. Cardin said, “We will get these confirmations done, and we may not have gotten them done otherwise.” And as Senator John Cornyn of Texas, the No. 2 Senate Republican, struggled to explain to a group of reporters just what Mr. Cruz was trying 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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