Both chambers pass CR
Thursday the Senate followed the House and voted to send President Obama a temporary spending bill—known as a Continuing Resolution (CR)—that was coupled with an authorization to arm and train Syrian rebels for combat against the Islamic State.
Senators then followed the House in leaving town so lawmakers could campaign for their seats ahead of the November election.
The Senate voted 78-22, with 12 Republicans and 10 members of the Democratic Caucus voting against the package.
The "no" votes on the bill included some of the chamber's most liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans.
Of the Democrats facing the toughest reelection races this fall, Sen. Mark Begich of Alaska was the only member to join Republicans in voting down the bill, citing concerns that the armed rebels could turn against U.S. interests. Begich said there were "plenty of votes" to avoid a shutdown and that his "nay" was in part a protest over the lack of debate concerning the Syria measure.
Earlier in the week, the House passed the CR on a bipartisan 319-108 vote, after a 273-156 tally in favor of adding the language on Syria.
A broader debate over whether to hand President Obama authorization to use military force in Iraq and Syria is likely to come in December. Wednesday's action in the House, where 85 Democrats—more than 40 percent of the caucus—and 71 Republicans opposed the narrower authorization to arm and train rebels, suggests the next fight could be more difficult for the White House.
Included in the CR was a nine-month extension for the Export-Import Bank. This move prevents it from shuttering on Oct. 1, even if its nine-month renewal was far shorter than supporters pushed for.
The extension of the Export-Import Bank's charter through June 30, 2015, puts off any decisions about the bank's future until next Congress. Conservative opponents believe they will have the votes next year to end the bank.
The House rejected a last-minute attempt by Democrats to push through a seven-year extension for the Export-Import Bank.
In addition to Syria and the Export-Import bank, the CR also provides $88 million to help fight the Ebola epidemic in Africa, including $58 million to speed production of the ZMapp antiviral drug and two vaccine candidates, as well as $30 million for additional staff and supplies at the Centers for Disease Control.
Lame duck session planned
Congress will return Nov. 12 for leadership elections, new-member orientation, and a lame duck session that includes a number of must-pass bills. Majority Leader Harry Reid said Thursday he plans to bring up marketplace-fairness legislation, which deals with Internet businesses and sales taxes, but he also listed tax extenders, the National Defense Authorization Act, and nominations as items on his postelection agenda.
Congress will have to agree to a new funding mechanism to keep the government's doors open past Dec. 11, in addition to renewing the terrorism risk-insurance program, the defense authorization, and tax extenders, all before members break for the holiday season.
It's a tight schedule complicated by the fact that Republicans could very well take over the chamber after the November elections, potentially blunting any Democratic wishes in the Senate. Republicans need to pick up a net of six seats, and are facing just the electoral conditions to make that happen.
Lawmakers are reluctant to game out how a majority change could affect the lame duck, but they say such a switch in control would carry implications for the brief work period.
Paycheck Fairness Act fails in Senate
On Monday, the Paycheck Fairness Act fell short of the 60 votes needed for passage in the Senate. By a vote of 52 to 40, the Senate rejected the act, which is part of Democrats' message to women in this year's midterm elections.
The Paycheck Fairness Act would punish employers for retaliating against workers who share wage information and would allow workers to sue for punitive damages for wage discrimination, among other things.
The measure would require the Department of Labor to increase outreach and training with employers to eliminate pay inequality and to continue to collect wage information based on gender.
The bill would also create a grant program to train women on wage negotiation skills.
The Chamber of Commerce urged a “no” vote on the bill, saying it would “erode employer defenses for legitimate pay disparities.”
Scotland rejects independence
By a surprisingly large margin, voters in Scotland rejected independence from the United Kingdom. With the results from all 32 Scottish districts counted, no carried 55.3 percent of the vote while the pro-independence side won 44.7 percent of the vote. Pre-election polls had suggested that the pro-independence side was slightly favored.
The vote by 3.6 million Scottish voters prevented the dissolution of the 307-year union between Scotland and England.
The outcome headed off the huge economic, political and military questions that would have arisen from a vote for independence. But it also presaged a looser, more federal United Kingdom. And it was unlikely to deter Scottish nationalists from trying again, in the future, to attain independence.
Transportation in focus
Amtrak bill unveiled
There was a time when Republicans wanted to cut funding for Amtrak entirely. They are not going that far now in hopes of keeping a bipartisan coalition together to reauthorize the national passenger rail network. But they are proposing to cut it by 40 percent.
Most of the proposed reduction comes in funding for new rail construction projects, which would be reduced from approximately $1.3 billion per year under the last Amtrak appropriations measure to about $770 million annually beginning next year.
The cut would be offset by a slight increase in spending for current train operations to appease Democrats, but Republican leaders on the panel said the end result would still be a funding reduction that would force Amtrak to streamline its operations.
In a nod to rural lawmakers, the bill maintains the long-distance routes that prove to be the most problematic. They are the most expensive and least used, according to the House Transportation Committee.
The bill is unlikely to be completed this year, which means that some of the efforts on the part of committee staff will have to undergo a repeat when a new Congress is sworn in next year. But with the main negotiating points out of the way, they will have a head start on getting the bill passed in the House and negotiating a deal with the Senate.
New York 11th Congressional District: A NY1 poll shows Rep. Michael Grimm (R-NY) leading NY City Councilman Domenic Recchia (D-NY) 44 to 40 percent.
Iowa: A new Quinnipiac poll shows Joni Ernst (R-IA) leading Rep. Bruce Braley (D-IA) 50 to 44 percent in the race to succeed retiring Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA).
Kansas: The Kansas Supreme Court ruled unanimously this week that the state must remove the name of the Democrat running for Senate after he requested to be removed from the ballot. The decision puts long-time Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS) facing a serious challenge from independent businessman Greg Orman (I-KS). Orman has refused to say whether he would caucus with Democrats or Republicans if elected.
Massachusetts: Attorney General Martha Coakley (D-MA) leads Charlie Baker (R-MA) 41 to 34 percent according to a new WBUR poll.
A look ahead
The House and Senate are not in session next week.
4 million – Pre-orders placed for Apple’s iPhone 6 on Sept. 12, the first day the devices were available.
“At that moment, if I could have just disappeared, I would have. If I could have just melted in tears, I would have. But I had to just sit there and talk to him...I didn’t hear a word he said, but I wasn’t in a place where I could tell him to go *$!@ himself.” – Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., on a labor leader’s disparaging comment about her weight several years ago (Huffington Post)
"The White House picnic was actually held one year after it was canceled. Last year the president had too much stuff going on to make time for a picnic, whereas now he just doesn't care anymore." – Jimmy Fallon
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