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Humberto Sanchez And Billy House
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Humberto Sanchez and Billy House
Nov. 19, 2013, 7:46 a.m.

The con­tours of Con­gress’ post-elec­tion lame-duck ses­sion star­ted com­ing in­to shape late Wed­nes­day night as both cham­bers con­sidered le­gis­la­tion that would fund the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment through Dec. 3 so they could take off for the dur­a­tion of the midterm elec­tion sea­son.

“After we com­plete our le­gis­lat­ive busi­ness for the week, the House will ad­journ un­til Nov. 15th. … When we re­turn, we will con­tin­ue fight­ing for middle class fam­il­ies as we have throughout this Con­gress, and that in­cludes ex­tend­ing middle class tax cuts,” House Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Hoy­er said in a re­lease Wed­nes­day night.

De­fer­ring ac­tion on le­gis­la­tion un­til after voters de­cide whom to elect is not a re­volu­tion­ary prac­tice. Lame-duck ses­sions typ­ic­ally — and will again this year — in­volve un­fin­ished work voters don’t care much about, such as the un­re­solved spend­ing bills.

House Minor­ity Lead­er Boehner and oth­ers have been com­plain­ing that Demo­crats might use the lame-duck in a des­per­ate way to push through ma­jor, con­ten­tious items — par­tic­u­larly un­der a scen­ario where Demo­crats lose their ma­jor­ity of House seats on Nov. 2.

In his re­lease, tax cuts were the only le­gis­lat­ive item Hoy­er men­tioned.

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Mean­while, the House late Wed­nes­day night was poised to pass the con­tinu­ing res­ol­u­tion that would fund the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment through Dec. 3 at FY10 levels for most pro­grams.

House ac­tion comes after the Sen­ate passed the CR earli­er Wed­nes­day night 69-30, with 11 Re­pub­lic­ans vot­ing in fa­vor of the meas­ure and Sen. Russ Fein­gold, D-Wis., the only Demo­crat to op­pose the pack­age.

Fol­low­ing the vote on the CR, the Sen­ate voted 54-39 to ad­journ Wed­nes­day night and re­turn Nov. 15.

Dur­ing Sen­ate de­bate on the meas­ure, Ap­pro­pri­ations Chair­man Daniel In­ouye stressed that the Con­gress must act on the meas­ure “in or­der to avoid a gov­ern­ment shut­down.”

Be­cause the pack­age will be the last spend­ing bill to be­come law be­fore the elec­tion, law­makers, as well as the White House, have sought to in­clude a num­ber of pro­vi­sions in the meas­ure. But in or­der to keep enough sup­port to pass the CR, In­ouye said he and Ap­pro­pri­ations rank­ing mem­ber Thad Co­chran wanted to keep the pack­age low on riders.

Be­fore ap­prov­ing the CR, the Sen­ate re­jec­ted two Re­pub­lic­an amend­ments, in­clud­ing a pro­pos­al from Sen. John Thune of South Dakota to cut 5 per­cent from dis­cre­tion­ary spend­ing, ex­clud­ing de­fense, home­land se­cur­ity and vet­er­ans’ pro­grams. The amend­ment needed 60 votes to pass, but was de­feated 48-51.

Thune said it would have saved $22 bil­lion. “It’s the least we can do, I think — in fair­ness to the Amer­ic­an people and the tax­pay­ers of this coun­try,” Thune said, adding that the budget de­fi­cit is ex­pec­ted to hit $1.3 tril­lion for FY10.

In­ouye ar­gued against the pro­pos­al and said the im­pact of the broad cut would be “dev­ast­at­ing.” For ex­ample, he noted that the Justice De­part­ment would lose $1.5 bil­lion and res­ult in 1,650 few­er FBI agents, 450 few­er DEA agents, and over 2,000 few­er fed­er­al cor­rec­tion­al of­ficers.

Sen. Jim De­Mint, R-S.C., offered an amend­ment that would put the ex­pir­a­tion date on the CR at Feb. 4, which he said would al­low newly elec­ted mem­bers, in­clud­ing new mem­bers look­ing to burn­ish their repu­ta­tions as budget hawks, to make spend­ing de­cisions in­stead of lame duck law­makers.

The De­Mint amend­ment also needed 60 votes to pass, but failed 39-60.

Wait­ing un­til Feb­ru­ary 4, would al­low the Sen­ate to “make a good de­cision with people who, maybe, rep­res­ent the voices of the Amer­ic­an people be­cause they have just come in off the cam­paign trail,” De­Mint said. “And in­stead of passing something in the chaos of Novem­ber and Decem­ber, let’s do something that is more re­spons­ible and more fo­cused.”

In­ouye said De­Mint’s amend­ment would hurt fed­er­al agency budgets and hurt im­port­ant pro­grams. For ex­ample, un­der the CR no new mil­it­ary con­struc­tion pro­jects are per­mit­ted, In­ouye said, and to ex­tend the CR would mean that no new con­struc­tion would oc­cur dur­ing the first third of the fisc­al year.

In total, the CR will provide fund­ing at a rate $8.2 bil­lion be­low the FY10 level, ac­cord­ing to the Sen­ate Ap­pro­pri­ations Com­mit­tee.

The bill in­cludes a hand­ful of au­thor­iz­a­tion ex­ten­sions and oth­er pro­vi­sions, in­clud­ing al­low­ing the Fed­er­al Air Mar­shals to main­tain FY10 fourth quarter cov­er­age levels for in­ter­na­tion­al and do­mest­ic flights.

The CR al­lows the Com­mis­sion­er of U.S. Cus­toms and Bor­der Pro­tec­tion to main­tain the level of Cus­toms and Bor­der Pro­tec­tion per­son­nel in place in the fi­nal quarter of FY10.

And the meas­ure would keep the max­im­um loan lim­its for Fan­nie Mae and Fred­die Mac at $729,750 in high-cost areas through Sept. 30. The same lim­its will also be ex­ten­ded to loan in­sured by the Fed­er­al Hous­ing Ad­min­is­tra­tion. They were set to ex­pire at year’s end.

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