Congress averts shutdown, then gets out of town

WASHINGTON – The most partisan, least productive Congress in memory has skipped out of Washington for the campaign trail.

The Senate shuttered the Capitol soon after sending President Barack Obama stopgap spending legislation that will make sure the government won’t shut down on Oct. 1. It passed early this morning by a 62-30 vote.

Left behind for a postelection session is a pile of unfinished business on the budget and taxes, farm policy and legislation to save the Postal Service from insolvency.

The GOP-controlled House had beat its retreat Friday morning after taking one last, futile slap at Obama – passing a bill titled the “Stop the War on Coal Act.” The measure, dead on arrival in the Senate, was aimed at boosting the coal industry in its battle against new environmental regulations while hurting Obama’s political prospects in coal states such as Ohio and Virginia.

The Senate’s middle-of-the-night session came after a spitting match between Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and the chamber’s Republicans over Reid’s insistence on advancing legislation by Sen. Jon Tester of Montana, perhaps the Senate’s most endangered Democrat, to boost access to public lands for hunting and fishing. The bill cleared a procedural hurdle on an 84-7 vote.

Topping the lame-duck agenda when Congress returns in Novemeber was dealing with the “fiscal cliff,” which combines the expiration of the Bush-era tax cuts on Dec. 31 and more than
$100 billion in across-the-board spending cuts set to strike at the same time as punishment for the failure of last year’s deficit “supercommittee” to strike a deal.

Also left in limbo is the farm bill, stalled in the House because of opposition from conservative Republicans who think it doesn’t cut farm subsidies and food stamps enough and Democrats who think its food stamp cuts are too harsh.

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