After a long day of bickering, the two parties have agreed to vote on the massive "CROmnibus" Saturday night.
After a hectic process and objections from conservative members that kept senators working all through Saturday, Senate leaders have come to an agreement to pass a $1.1 trillion spending bill later Saturday evening that would fund the government through September.
The deal cuts short a long day and what had promised to be a long night of drama and tension in the Senate, where many lawmakers were eager to get home or—at the very least—take the weekend off before bringing the historically unproductive 113th Congress to a close.
Members will be allowed to vote as early as 8 p.m. on Saturday evening to move forward with the spending bill and to vote on a motion brought by Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, whose objections to the bill threw the Senate into chaos over the last several days. The deal was announced by a Democratic leadership aide announced around 7:30 p.m. Saturday and will also allow Democrats to vote on all 14 of the nominees they've prioritized beginning Monday.
Previously, members were expected to take up a procedural motion on the omnibus spending bill at 1 a.m. Sunday with final passage at 7 a.m. Monday, over the objections of Cruz and Sen. Mike Lee. Both chambers have approved a resolution to keep the government funded through Wednesday, so the threat of a shutdown was already off the table.
Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn said earlier Saturday that leaders were in discussions to move that vote forward, as members with weekend and holiday plans on their minds hoped to leave town.
This isn't the first time rank-and-file members have held up a vote on keeping the government funded. Last year, Cruz helped coordinate a strategy to shut down the government in pursuit of a vote to defund the Affordable Care Act.
Republicans hope to avert a recurrence, but a last-minute procedural maneuver Friday night by Cruz and Lee blocked the Friday vote and, at around 11 p.m., forced senators to come back Saturday. Obama's executive order allowing visas to be issued to potentially millions of undocumented immigrants has enraged Cruz and other conservatives. Cruz and Lee are demanding a vote to prohibit funds for enacting the immigration action before Jan. 1.
Cruz said he had a one-on-one conversation with Reid on Saturday afternoon in which Cruz said he would allow the cloture vote on the spending package to go forward. But Cruz had a condition: that Reid would allow a constitutional point of order on the president's executive action on immigration to be raised.
"One can only infer," Cruz said, "that the Democrats are afraid of taking a clear vote on the constitutionality of the president's illegal executive amnesty.… If the Democrats continue to refuse to compromise, they will drag this day out until one in the morning."
Under the agreement, Cruz will be able to bring up his motion Saturday night rather than Sunday morning, but the vote on Cruz's motion is expected to fail.
Cruz's office sought to make the case that his motion was substantive and worth the effort. "Democrats have never been asked to go on record supporting or opposing Obama's amnesty. Tonight, bc of Ted Cruz, they will," Cruz spokeswoman Amanda Carpenter tweeted, adding: "And, keep in mind, the Cruz point of order has teeth. It's not an empty show vote. Essential for holding GOP's feet to the fire next year."
But Democrats scoffed at Cruz's motion, as the party leadership offered up a "fact check" memo calling it essentially a procedural move that "would not stop President Obama's executive action on immigration. In fact, it would reject the omnibus spending bill if successful. Meanwhile the executive action would stay in place."
Many Republicans, including leadership, disagreed with Cruz's push to address the immigration matter immediately. They believe they should handle what to do about Obama's executive order when they have the majority in January. "Fight when we can win and get something accomplished," said Republican Sen. John Hoeven of North Dakota. "That's what we're trying to set up for next year when we have the majority in the Senate."
Saturday morning, many GOP senators criticized the move by Cruz and Lee as counterproductive for the Republicans. "Every senator has his or her right to legislate the way they want to," said Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, "and I'd be the first to stand up for their rights. On the other hand, you should have an end goal in sight if you're going to do these types of things, and I don't see an end goal other than irritating a lot of people."
Democrats also face their own internal struggle. Many on the left, including Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, are balking at the spending package, but Warren has not said whether she would attempt to hold the bill as Cruz has. Warren and other liberal members are upset over additions that would roll back parts of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform law's regulations and changes to campaign finance rules.
Reid, in his final days at the Senate's helm, had used Cruz's delay—and resulting Saturday workday—to move through a list of about 20 of President Obama's nominees. Given Republican objections, as many as 40 roll-call votes would have been necessary to fill executive branch slots. Final passage for several of those nominees would not likely have come before Wednesday, when Democratic leaders worried that many of their members would already have left town for the holidays. Reid made it through about a dozen of those nominees, including the head of the Social Security Administration, the head of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and a controversial surgeon general nominee, before working out the deal with GOP leadership.
"It's not an exaggeration to say that because of sen. Cruz we will probably end up passing significantly more nominees than we would have been able to otherwise," the aide said.
The deal does not include a vote the two other major pieces of legislation the Senate will have to deal with before breaking for the holiday recess: a package extending tax breaks that expired at the end of last year and a reauthorizing of the terrorism risk insurance program. The aide said that those votes and their timing would be settled after the omnibus has passed.
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