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Congress punts tough choice until after election


WASHINGTON (AP) - 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.

As a last necessary task before leaving, both the Senate and House passed a temporary spending measure needed to keep federal agencies operating when the new budget year starts.

As Congress moved toward a messy end to a session fraught with partisan fire, President Barack Obama campaigned for Democrats in Iowa and Virginia, accusing Republicans of being dishonest about what needs to be done to revive the economy and restore middle-class dreams.

With their House and Senate majorities on the line, 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 House followed suit several hours later with a 228-194 vote, sending it to Obama early Thursday.

"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.

Staying or going might seem an equally unpleasant prospect for some embattled Democrats, who are facing more than four weeks of defending unpopular votes in favor of Obama's economic stimulus measure, health care law and uncompleted legislation for curbing global warming.

They also 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.

Republicans and a few Democrats urged Congress to preserve the tax cuts for all Americans, even the wealthiest. Democratic leaders opted to avoid the risk of being branded tax hikers and punted the matter until after the elections.

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