WASHINGTON — First it was objections by House Democrats that stood in the way of passage of a $1.1 trillion catchall spending bill. Now it’s the Senate Republicans’ turn, specifically Ted Cruz of Texas and Mike Lee of Utah.
The two lawmakers demanded a vote Friday night on a proposal to cut funds from the bill that could be used to implement President Barack Obama’s new immigration policy, ending any chance the measure could clear the Senate and be sent to the White House with a minimum of fuss.
Officials in both parties said the bill remains on track for clearance by early next week. Even so, the move led Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., to abandon plans to adjourn the Senate for the weekend, and raised the possibility of a test vote on the spending bill shortly after midnight on Saturday.
Senate Republican leaders have pledged to challenge Obama’s immigration policy early in the new year, after the GOP takes control of the Senate. But Cruz suggested they shouldn’t be entirely trusted to keep their pledge.
“We will learn soon enough if those statements are genuine and sincere,” he said, in a clear reference to Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell and Speaker John Boehner.
Ironically, Cruz and Lee played a major role in events slightly more than a year ago that led to a partial government shutdown – an event McConnell, Boehner and most Republicans have vowed to avoid repeating. This time, Republican officials said they may have inadvertently given Reid an opening to win confirmation for several of Obama’s nominees that might otherwise have languished.
With the end of the two-year Congress approaching, Reid is pressing to confirm about 20 Obama nominees to fill posts such as surgeon general, director of the Social Security Administration and federal judgeships.
The spending measure tops the remaining items on a quarrelsome Congress’ agenda. Others include renewing tax breaks for individuals and businesses and a government program supporting the market for insurance against terrorist acts. In one bit of progress, the Senate sent Obama a sweeping defense policy measure by a big bipartisan vote.
Earlier Friday, the controversial spending package won a personal endorsement from Obama and was brought before the Senate.
Obama acknowledged that the measure has “a bunch of provisions in this bill that I really do not like,” and said the bill flows from “the divided government that the American people voted for.”
Obama has sided with old-school pragmatists in his party like Reid, but he’s split from leading liberals such as House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass. Warren blasted the measure in a Senate speech for the third straight day, saying it was a payoff to Citigroup, whose lobbyists helped write a provision that significantly weakens new regulations on derivatives trading by Wall Street banks.
“Enough is enough. Washington already works really well for the billionaires and the big corporations and the lawyers and the lobbyists,” Warren said. “But what about the families who lost their homes or their jobs or their retirement savings the last time Citi bet big on derivatives and lost?”
Another provision loathed by many Democrats – though backed by the Democratic National Committee – raises the amount of money that wealthy donors may contribute to political parties for national conventions, election recounts and headquarters buildings.
Democrats will lose control of the Senate in January because of heavy losses in midterm elections last month and will go deeper into a House minority than at any time in nearly 70 years.
Lawmakers from both parties came to the floor to praise the underlying spending measure, which provides funding to keep nearly the entire government operating through the Sept. 30 end of the current budget year.
The sole exception is the Department of Homeland Security, which is funded only until Feb. 27. Republicans intend to try then to force the president to roll back a new immigration policy that removes the threat of deportation from millions of immigrants living in the country illegally.