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Senate Approves CR, Leaves Washington Under Cover of Night

In a midnight session, the Senate wrapped up business until after the elections, clearing must-pass stopgap legislation that will keep the government funded through March.

The late votes came as the result of an agreement announced earlier in the day by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).

The continuing resolution passed the Senate 62-30 after clearing the 60-vote cloture hurdle. The House overwhelmingly passed the bill last week.

The vote takes a potentially politically damaging fight over federal spending and a possible government shutdown off the table, enabling Members to return home and campaign.

Had no deal been reached to set up the early Saturday morning votes, Senators would have been stuck in town through the weekend.

Few Senators spoke to the spending package on the floor Friday, but in a Thursday speech, Senate Appropriations Chairman Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) said he did not like the fact that the Senate could not complete its work on regular spending bills, even though his panel had completed the work of drafting most of them.

“I want my colleagues to know I support this measure even though it is far from perfect. In fact, I would say that it is not a particularly good bill, but passing it is much better than allowing the government to shut down over a lack of funding,” Inouye said.

His Republican counterpart, whom Inouye calls the vice chairman of the Appropriations Committee, expressed similar frustration.

“The resolution represents a lost opportunity,” Appropriations ranking member Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) said. “We have lost the opportunity to provide agencies with at least some certainty about funding for this fiscal year. We have lost the opportunity to make informed judgments about which programs are effective and deserving of additional resources, and which programs should be reformed or terminated.”

Although both Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) have served long tenures on the Appropriations panel, the chamber did not advance bills on the floor this year.

Under the deal, the vote on cutting off debate and final passage on the CR was moved up, along with a vote on relaxing regulations for sportsmen and fishermen, in exchange for allowing Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) a vote on cutting off aid to Egypt, Libya and Pakistan. The deal also called for a vote on a measure urging “diplomatic and economic pressure” to deter Iran from developing nuclear weapons capability.

Senators handily turned back Paul’s bill, 10-81.

“In no way should the United States government be sending money to governments who are not our ally, who blatantly do not respect our country, and who work to compromise the safety of our allies and citizens abroad,” Paul said before the vote. “I am pleased that the Senate leadership has listened to my pleas for an end to this and have agreed to debate and vote on this pressing issue.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) led a coordinated series of speeches in opposition to Paul’s proposal, decrying it as a misguided effort that would undermine U.S. policy in the Middle East.

Graham sponsored the Iran resolution, with a broad coalition of supporters in both parties. His resolution prevailed, 90-1. Paul was the only Senator to vote against the measure.

“We know that Iran would create access for terrorists – access for them – to these nuclear weapons, making the Middle East a nuclear tinderbox,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said in supporting that measure. “We cannot trust this regime. We know that fact beyond any potential doubt.”

Paul, on the other hand, said that the Graham resolution could have unforeseen consequences.

“I think a vote for this resolution is a vote for the concept of pre-emptive war. I know of no other way to interpret this resolution,” Paul said.

The Senate’s last vote before leaving for the November election season came on the sportsmen measure, which cleared a procedural vote 84-7, and will be the first order of business when the Senate returns.

Sponsored by Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), who is in a tight re-election race against Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-Mont.), the bill has the backing of pro-gun and hunting groups. Before the vote, McConnell sought an agreement to take up and pass a much narrower House-approved version of the measure that would have gone straight to the president’s desk, but Reid objected. McConnell then announced his support for moving forward with Tester’s bill.

With the majority hanging in the balance with each Senate race – Democrats hold 53 seats while Republicans hold 47 – Reid had pledged to give Tester a vote. Tester and Democrats sensed an opportunity to gain political advantage after a sportsmen’s bill sponsored by Rehberg was criticized back home for being hastily drafted.

In one final floor exchange, Reid and Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) traded barbs over the scheduling of the defense authorization bill during the lame-duck session. Reid tried to get an agreement to allow the bill to reach the floor as early as November with only relevant amendments.

A visibly agitated Kyl said Reid made the request without notifying Republicans at a reasonable hour, forcing him to object. “Everybody know you can’t get [the] unanimous consent of your colleagues when they’re all gone,” Kyl said.

Senators are not expected to return to the Capitol until about a week after the elections.

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