Let me just recap Congress’ final day on Friday, though I could recap the entire 112th Congress and still need to include something else to fill out the blog post. On Friday, the Senate finished off the continuing resolution to fund the government for six months, by a vote of 62-30. The bill now goes to the President, which he will sign. So the next budget showdown will take place at the end of March, although fiscal issues will see a battle long before then, between the fiscal cliff and the reaching of the debt limit. One piece of that puzzle, however, is complete.
It should be noted that, even though Republicans (reluctantly) agreed to the $1.047 trillion number for discretionary spending, this represents the slowest growth of federal programs in 60 years, and that will continue until 2021, per the spending cap agreed to in the Budget Control Act of 2011. So while this spending bill is essential to keep the lights on at federal agencies, it will fund far less lights. The President likes to brag about this low rate of growth in federal discretionary spending, “lower than Ronald Reagan or George W. Bush” he said last night on 60 Minutes, but the truth is that, were the spending commensurate with Reagan and Bush, the subsequent jobs created would knock a full point off the federal unemployment rate.
The Senate passed some other legislation on their way out the door. They agreed to a bill that exempts US airlines from paying for carbon emissions on European flights, flaunting a European Union law that mandates the activity. This bill has already passed the House, but there are differences, so it will need to get reconciled in the lame duck.
More ominously, the Senate passed, by a 90-1 count, an “Iran containment” resolution that creates that “red line” Benjamin Netanyahu pleaded for recently. And, it puts the red line for Iran’s nuclear program at a nuclear capability rather than a nuclear weapon, a shift from current Presidential policy.
In passing the resolution, the Senate is now on record as “reject[ing] any United States policy that would rely on efforts to contain a nuclear weapons-capable Iran.” The wording of “nuclear-weapons capable” is important because many non-proliferation and nuclear experts have said that Iran is currently capable of building a bomb [...]
What’s more, the Senate resolution did not define “capable” and various lawmakers in favor of this language have offered a wide array of meanings.
Therefore, the Senate’s threshold for military action to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons (experts and U.S. and Israeli officials have argued that a military strike would only delay, not prevent, an Iranian bomb) is more immediate than Obama’s and dangerously vague.
Mitt Romney has a nuclear weapons capability threshold, and so the Senate put themselves on record as aligning with the Republican nominee. And all but two Democrats voted for it; Barbara Boxer and Patty Murray didn’t vote at all. Rejecting containment puts you on a path to military action, argued Rand Paul (R-KY), the only actual no vote.
Before leaving town, the House voted for a resolution of disapproval on the Health and Human Services Department’s regulations allowing for waivers to the states to re-tailor their welfare programs. House Republicans and Mitt Romney say this waiver “removes the work requirement for welfare,” which is actually untrue. The Senate never took up the measure, even though it has resonance for the Presidential race, as it was at one point one of the main targets of the Romney campaign’s advertising. But there could be votes in this area in the lame duck.
Members will now return home to campaign for two or six more years of service.