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Ensign out of town as bill passed

WASHINGTON — After holding up a mortgage rescue bill for more than two weeks, Sen. John Ensign was not in town on Friday when the Senate finally passed it.

The Nevada Republican was in Reno speaking at the opening of a center for sexual abuse victims.

The unveiling of the Jim Pagels Sexual Assault Response Team and Child Abuse Response and Evaluations Facility "has been on his schedule for a while," Ensign spokesman Tory Mazzola said.

Ensign obtained a $1 million earmark in 2004 for the Reno center, and being there for the opening "was important," Mazzola said.

The mortgage bill passed 63-5. Thirty-two senators were not present for a rare Friday afternoon vote as a result of Ensign forcing a series of parliamentary delays.

The Nevada Republican launched a protest when Democratic leaders refused to allow a vote on an amendment to add renewable energy tax credits to the housing bill.

Democrats worked through a number of procedural hurdles, a process that took days in addition to the Senate being out for a week for its Fourth of July recess.

If he had been present, Ensign would have voted against the housing bill "because his amendment was blocked out," Mazzola said.

Congress is still not finished with the legislation. The Senate vote sent the bill to the House, and it was expected the House will send it back to the Senate for a final vote, perhaps next week.

In addition, lawmakers are negotiating with the White House to avoid a veto.

Mazzola said Ensign considered Friday’s vote was "procedural," and there will be other opportunities to vote on it.

Ensign has not said how he would vote on the bill on its merits.

Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., voted for the bill.

"Senate Democrats led passage of a responsible bill to address the worsening foreclosure crisis, which is the root of the broader economic crisis," Reid said in a statement.

Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at stetreault@stephensmedia.com or 202-783-1760.

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