Voting well past midnight and into early Friday morning, the Senate added new disaster aid and expanded housing credit to a $182 billion spending bill even as members embraced a populist amendment denying farm subsidies to individuals with an average adjusted gross income of over $1 million.
“Rather than tax millionaires, the first thing we ought to do is quit giving them subsidies,” said Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), the lead sponsor. Senate Agriculture Committee leaders vainly appealed for their colleagues to wait until promised reforms in the new farm bill, but with the handwriting on the wall, even old allies deserted sending the final tally up to 84-15 for Coburn’s language.
The late-night session followed another long day of dithering, but before sending senators home for a week-long recess, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid at least secured the cloture motion he needed to tightly control debate when they return.
The Nevada Democrat, a long-time veteran of the appropriations, seemed alternately pleased and dismayed by what he called his “noble experiment” in legislating this week. And the winning procedural vote, 83-16 was only completed past 1:30 a.m.
Even if the Senate completes the appropriations package quickly when it returns Oct. 31 — as now promised — it will still have acted on only four of the 12 annual appropriations bills for the new fiscal year that began Oct. 1. With stopgap funding due to expire Nov 18, the House is increasingly impatient with the process and more likely to press for a single omnibus bill approach.
The measure now covers five Cabinet department as well as major space and science agencies, and as such attracted a broad range of amendments, many of which had little to do with the appropriations themselves.
The housing credit-related provisions forced, perhaps, the most closely fought fight. And the bipartisan coalition only narrowly got to the 60 vote threshold required for an amendment restoring higher conforming loan limits for government backed home mortgage loans.
These higher limits of up to $729,750 in high cost areas had fallen back to $625,500 at the end of last month, and proponents argued that this reduction was already having an adverse impact on a weak housing market.
The 60-38 roll call — not decided until the final moment — was followed soon after by a failed attempt by conservatives to tighten procedures for qualifying for food stamps.
But here, too, the 41-58 vote showed important Republican defections reflecting the stress of the economy and sensitivity of the program in areas like the industrial Midwest.
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