December 15, 2014

Spending bill battle exposes intraparty rifts among Democrats, Republicans

Congress cleared the $1.1 trillion spending bill over the weekend, overcoming objections from senators on the left and the right in a marathon Saturday session that exposed continued rifts among Democrats and Republicans.

President Obama supports the bill. He faces a Wednesday deadline to sign the legislation before funding expires for most basic government operations.

The bill’s passage was a victory for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, and House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican. Despite some hiccups, the leaders pushed the bill through their chambers on fairly comfortable votes, giving them a chance to claim victory.

Those hiccups, however, presage problems for both parties. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, joined a liberal rebellion that embarrassed Mr. Obama last week. Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas Republican, scuttled a deal arranged by Senate GOP leaders, thus allowing Democrats more time to approve key nominees before they lose control of the Senate at the end of the year.

“The chasm in the Republican Party is huge,” Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, said on CNN’s “State of the Union” program Sunday morning, hours after the spending bill cleared despite Mr. Cruz’s objections.

The vote was 56-40, with 31 Democrats, 24 Republicans and one independent backing the legislation and 21 Democrats, 18 Republicans and one independent opposing it. Had they banded together to filibuster, they could have blocked the bill, but that could have precipitated a government shutdown that neither party wanted.

The bill was unveiled late Tuesday. It passed the House on Thursday and cleared the Senate about 10 p.m. Saturday, meaning lawmakers and watchdogs had less than 100 hours to scrutinize the 1,600 pages of legislation, plus another 1,200 pages of explanations.

The measure funds the Defense Department and basic domestic needs including education, the Internal Revenue Service and health care through Sept. 30.

The exception is homeland security money, which is provided only through Feb. 27. Republicans insisted on the stipulation, saying they want to return early next year and try to halt Mr. Obama’s deportation amnesty by tying it to the rest of immigration enforcement money.

Mr. Cruz, though, tried to take a stand on that issue over the weekend, scuttling a deal that would have passed a short-term bill to keep the government open and given senators the weekend off, to return Monday.

Democrats were giddy over Mr. Cruz’s tactics, which sparked a war of words on Twitter between his staff and senior Republican and Democratic aides.

Mr. Cruz’s side claimed victory, saying it got senators to go on record on whether they believed the spending bill was unconstitutional because it included funding for homeland security, which would carry out Mr. Obama’s amnesty plans.

Mr. Cruz lost support overwhelmingly, on a 74-22 vote. Even some Republicans who said Mr. Obama’s policies were illegal voted against the senator from Texas, arguing that a constitutional objection doesn’t apply to a spending bill.

“While the president’s executive actions on immigration are reprehensible and deserve a strong response, I value the oath I took to support and defend the Constitution too much to exploit it for political expediency,” said Sen. Bob Corker, Tennessee Republican. “The Constitution gives Congress the power to fund the government, so to assert that the House-passed spending bill is unconstitutional is not only inaccurate but irresponsible.”

But Mr. Cruz said in a statement that he picked a good fight and forced senators to take a stand.

“The Constitution matters, and we must defend it. That is why we have fought so hard to ensure this vote,” he said.

The vote total, however, showed a strong rejection in both parties of either his tactics or his constitutional analysis.

Democrats couldn’t resist piling on. Reid spokesman Adam Jentleson issued a statement thanking Mr. Cruz for helping them speed up a number of nominations.

Much of the last week’s fighting in the Senate has dealt with timing of votes rather than the substance of the issues. Republicans are trying to use the few days left in the year to prevent Democrats from installing several dozen nominations before Republicans take control.

By coming in Saturday, Mr. Reid was given an extra two days.

Mr. Cruz’s staff said Mr. Reid would have fought for the nominees anyway.

Mr. Reid told colleagues he thought going through the exercise would pay dividends for the Senate as a whole.

“What we’ve gone through here the last day or so, I think is going to help us next year,” he said.


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