Congress punts tough choice until after election

WASHINGTON — A deeply unpopular Congress is bolting for the campaign trail without finishing its most basic job — approving a budget for the government year that begins on Friday.

Lawmakers also are postponing a major fight over taxes, two embarrassing ethics cases and other political hot potatoes until angry and frustrated voters render their verdict in the Nov. 2 elections.

Democratic leaders called off votes and even debates on all controversial matters.

"It would be one thing if you have a chance to pass something, then by all means have a vote," Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., said Wednesday. "But it was pretty clear that it was going to be mutually assured destruction."

One foot out the door, the House and Senate convened just long enough to vote on a "continuing resolution," a stopgap measure to keep the government in operating funds for the next two months and avoid a pre-election federal shutdown.

The Senate late Wednesday approved the temporary spending bill 69-30. The vote sent the measure to the House, which was expected to pass it and send it to Obama.

"We may not agree on much, but I think, with rare exception, all 100 senators want to get out of here and get back to their states," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who is locked in a tough re-election fight against Republican Sharron Angle in Nevada.

Democrats head home without what was supposed to be their closing argument of the campaign, an extension of Bush-era tax cuts for families making less than $250,000.

"If Democratic leaders leave town without stopping all of the tax hikes, they are turning their backs on the American people," said House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio.

Republicans also denounced Democrats for delaying the ethics trials of Reps. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., and Maxine Waters, D-Calif., until after the elections. Both lawmakers had said they wanted trials as soon as possible.

The end-of-session agenda included:

• A legislative blueprint for NASA's future that would extend the life of the space shuttle program for a year while backing Obama's intent to use commercial carriers to carry humans into space. Obama will sign the measure.

• The first intelligence authorization bill since 2004, with compromise language on demands by Congress for greater access to top secret intelligence. The most secret briefings will still be provided only to top congressional leaders, but members of the intelligence panels will receive a general description of the programs. The House was clearing the measure for Obama.

• The House approved legislation, 348-79, that would allow the U.S. to seek trade sanctions against China and other nations for manipulating their currency to gain trade advantages. Its prospects are unclear in the Senate.

Congress punts tough choice until after election 09/30/10 [Last modified: Thursday, September 30, 2010 12:02am]

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