WASHINGTON — Leaving piles of unfinished business for fall, Congress began exiting Washington on Thursday for a five-week vacation with its accomplishments few, its efforts at budgeting in tatters and its collective nerves frayed by months of feuding.
The House's chief accomplishment for the week was a bipartisan vote Wednesday to deal with spiking student loan interest rates, readying that legislation for President Barack Obama's signature.
But that bit of progress came the very day that a Republican strategy of embracing painful automatic budget cuts imploded with the collapse of a major transportation and housing bill.
That measure fell victim, top lawmakers said, to opposition from both conservative and more moderate Republicans and laid bare the flaws in the party's budget strategy, which promised deeper cuts to domestic programs than the rank and file were willing to deliver in votes on funding bills implementing the pledge.
Before leaving town, the GOP House prepared its 40th attack on Obama's signature health care law today and slated votes on other legislation aimed at embarrassing the administration and sharpening the party's political message for encounters back home with constituents.
As the Senate raced out its own doors Thursday, it confirmed Obama's nomination of Samantha Power as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. That capped an unusually productive run of advancing administration nominations that came only after majority Democrats threatened to rewrite the rules to take away the GOP's right to filibuster such nominees.
But Republican senators banded together to shut down the Democrats' attempt to advance their own, far more generous version of the transportation and housing bill, which was filled with funding for popular items such as road and bridge repairs and community development grants for local projects.
Republicans united to kill the $54 billion measure, following the instructions of Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who kept GOP defections to only one: moderate Susan Collins of Maine, who co-wrote the measure from her position on the Appropriations Committee.
The demise of the transportation measure in both House and Senate leaves Congress at the drawing board when it comes to the budget. The new fiscal year begins Oct. 1, and it'll take a stopgap bill to prevent a government shutdown.