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Members Hit the Exits While Deficit Panel Keeps Meeting

Congress is out but the super committee is still in — for the next few days, at least.

House Members raced for the exits Friday afternoon after shooting down a balanced budget amendment. In the Senate, which ended its heavy lift for the week Thursday night by approving a minibus appropriations bill, just a handful of Members took to the floor to speak about the annual defense authorization act.

Meanwhile House and Senate negotiators on the Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction continued whittling away at their work as the group braces for a Nov. 23 deadline to produce an agreement or risk massive cuts to various government programs.

House Republicans who were pushing for the balanced budget amendment, which fell short of the two-thirds majority required for passage, blamed their Democratic counterparts for not crossing party lines to support the measure. In a statement, Speaker John Boehner (Ohio) took a shot at President Barack Obama, who “says, ‘We can’t wait’ to take action on jobs is doing just that: waiting, riding things out until the election and skipping opportunities to work together with Republicans to create a better environment for job growth.”

Democrats swung, too.

“Don’t talk about it. Just do it,” Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (Md.) said ahead of Friday’s vote. “Don’t refuse to pay for it. Don’t cut taxes and increase spending. Don’t just preach fiscal responsibility. Practice it. It will take no courage to vote for this amendment, but it will take courage to balance our budget by paying for what we buy.”

The partisan back-and-forth stood in contrast to other floor events on Thursday night, when appropriators hailed the passage of a minibus spending package that will keep the government funded through Dec. 16. The measure also passed easily in the Senate on Thursday night, after which most Members took off for the Thanksgiving recess.

The president signed the bill into law Friday, well ahead of the midnight expiration of the current continuing resolution.

In the Senate on Friday, Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) gave a lengthy speech attempting to rebut a White House statement of administration policy, which threatened to veto the defense authorization bill because it would require that terrorists be tried in military rather than civilian courts.

“The Administration strongly objects to the military custody provision … which would appear to mandate military custody for a certain class of terrorism suspects,” the White House said in a statement. “This unnecessary, untested, and legally controversial restriction of the President’s authority to defend the Nation from terrorist threats would tie the hands of our intelligence and law enforcement professionals.”

Levin said the measure does not require military custody “because it includes a national security waiver, which allows suspects to be held in civilian custody.”

Several amendments have been offered to the measure, but votes on those are not expected to take place until after Congress returns from the Thanksgiving recess.

Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) has offered an amendment to remove the controversial detainee provisions, which military experts and others say would harm national security, and require the Intelligence, Judiciary and Armed Services committees to hold hearings on the proposal and work out a compromise.

“We haven’t had time to adequately consider these provisions,” Udall said in a release. “We need to know what our military and intelligence experts — and our men and women in the field — actually need to most effectively prosecute the war on terror, especially before we change detainee provisions that are already working.”

Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), offered an amendment that would sanction the Central Bank of Iran in an effort to economically cripple the Iranian government. The amendment comes after Kirk and Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) spearheaded the idea in an Aug. 9 letter signed by 92 Senators and sent to Obama.

“This, in my judgment, is one of the few remaining actions short of an embargo of Iranian shipping and military intervention to slow or end the Iranian nuclear program,” McConnell said on the floor Thursday. “It is worth supporting and pursuing.”

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), along with Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), also offered an amendment that would repeal the authorization for use of military force against Iraq adopted in 2002.

The Senate will return Nov. 28 to vote on a judicial nominee. The House returns for votes Nov. 29.

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