Updated: 12:34 a.m.
Senate Democrats ended the final work stretch before the midterm elections with just a few legislative accomplishments to tout back home. Meanwhile, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) set up a number of legislative options for the lame-duck session that begins Nov. 15.
Just before adjourning early Thursday morning, Senators voted 69-30 in favor of a continuing resolution to keep the government funded through Dec. 3. The House cleared the bill early Thursday morning by a vote of 228-194, thus sending it to President Barack Obama for his signature.
Most Senators immediately headed for the exits following the vote, leaving Reid with the final duty of clearing a handful of legislative cats and dogs.
The chamber unanimously cleared 84 pending nominees Wednesday night, including Sarah Bloom Raskin and Janet Yellen to serve on the Federal Reserve Board of Governors and David Buckley to be CIA inspector general. Notably missing, however, were the 23 judicial nominees pending on the Senate calendar.
In preparation for the lame-duck session, Reid filed motions to hold procedural votes on three bills, in order to keep his options open when the Senate returns after the elections, Senate Democratic aides said. He teed up votes on whether to take up a bill to establish new food safety rules, a measure to boost enforcement of equal pay laws, and legislation to create incentives for natural gas and electric vehicles.
Reid did not set up votes on other priority items that Congress will likely have to deal with during the lame duck. That list includes an omnibus spending bill for the next year, an extension of Bush-era tax cuts, other tax extenders, an extension of unemployment insurance, and a Defense Department authorization bill, among other things. Those items have been stymied by pre-election politics.
One senior Senate Democratic aide said the list of legislative priorities for the lame duck is a long one and Reid picked a few measures he has been trying to bring up for months. “That being said, we still expect to consider tax cuts, omnibus and DOD is on the table,” the aide said.
Another Democratic aide said Reid could be using the measures as “placeholders” in case he cannot reach agreements with Republicans on the other measures and needs a piece of legislation to debate when the Senate returns Nov. 15. Reid is not expected to get enough GOP support to move to either the equal pay bill or the fuel-efficient vehicle measure, given he will need 60 votes to beat back expected filibusters. However, he may have enough support to start debate on the food safety bill.
Under the schedule, the Senate is likely to hold at least one of the procedural votes on Nov. 17, the first aide said.
The Senate also passed a number of largely non-controversial bills Wednesday, including a bill by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) that would require the Federal Communications Commission to issue regulations lowering the volume of television commercials. A measure by Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), which would allow for the safe disposal of controlled substances that are prescribed by doctors, also passed.
While Senators are not expected to return for work until mid-November, the chamber will not technically be in a recess because some Senators will be coming in every three days for pro forma sessions starting Oct. 1.
While the move keeps scores of nominees from being sent back to the White House, it also prevents Obama from making any recess appointments on his picks that have remained in limbo. Notable among them is Jacob Lew, the nominee to serve as director of the Office of Management and Budget. Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) has placed a hold on Lew’s nomination in protest over the administration’s ban on deepwater offshore oil drilling.
While most Members dashed home Wednesday night, House and Senate Democratic leaders will meet with Obama on Thursday in their final pre-election huddle, several senior Democratic aides said Tuesday.
Lawmakers expected to attend the meeting include Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (Md.), House Majority Whip James Clyburn (S.C.), Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Chris Van Hollen (Md.), Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.), Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (Ill.), Senate Democratic Conference Vice Chairman Charles Schumer (N.Y.) and Senate Democratic Conference Secretary Patty Murray (Wash.).