WASHINGTON -- Senate leaders reached a hard-fought agreement Friday to complete their work in predawn Saturday and ensure that the government's lights stay on through March, and then closed the doors of one of the least productive Congresses in generations until after the November elections.
The 112th Congress lurched to the exits the way it started -- amid partisan rancor and backbiting even within the parties. House Democrats marched to the House steps, chanted, "work, work, work," and demanded lawmakers stay in town to complete vital, unfinished business, like a farm bill to take the place of agriculture laws that expire at the end of the month. They said no Congress since 1960 had recessed this early for the campaign season.
Then they headed home.
Speaker John Boehner of Ohio growled that they should have protested on the Senate steps, where House bills have gone to die since the Republicans took control. The last House bill to pass was much like many others, a largely partisan measure to thwart Obama administration efforts, named the "Stop the War on Coal Act." It too will die in the Senate.
In that body, the war was as much within the Republican Party as it was between the opposing camps. That was because Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., had succeeded in going around his leadership and forcing a vote on legislation to cut off foreign aid to Pakistan, Egypt and Libya until the countries prove they are working constructively with the
Senators from both parties, backed by the Obama administration, vowed to vote it down, saying it would be detrimental to U.S. foreign policy as Washington tries to steer the new governments of the Arab spring toward democratic pluralism. One particular provision of the Paul legislation would mandate the cutoff of foreign aid to any country where a U.S. embassy is attacked, an invitation to terrorists to attack U.S. diplomatic posts in friendly countries like Israel, said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.
But with foreign aid less popular than ever and feelings raw over the recent diplomatic attacks, no one wanted to take a vote many constituents would not like.
With the exit signs beckoning, Senate Republicans did bow to Democratic demands that the Senate's last vote before the campaign season be to take up legislation to increase access for recreational hunting and fishing.
The sportsmen's package was drafted by Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., and pushed to the Senate floor to help his re-election fight against Rep. Denny Rehberg, a Republican who had pushed a similar package through the House.