Democrats and Republicans in the U.S. Congress engaged in procedural battles and traded allegations on Wednesday as lawmakers attempted to conclude work on legislative priorities near the end of the congressional session. Senate Republicans used procedural tactics to delay Democrat's efforts to move toward a vote on health care reform, while House lawmakers approved a defense bill and a job creation measure amid partisan bickering over responsibility for the U.S. economic situation.
In a day of frenetic activity before it formally adjourned for the year, the House approved the last of 12 government spending bills for the 2010 fiscal year that began last October.
The $636-billion defense appropriations measure includes $128 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Senate began considering the bill late on Wednesday before adjourning.
Congress will have to approve more money for Afghanistan in the new year, estimated at between $30 billion and $35 billion, to support President Obama's 30,000 U.S. troop surge.
As part of a package of bills, the House also approved a $154 billion measure aimed at easing the difficult U.S employment picture by creating new transportation and other infrastructure jobs, providing more financial aid to U.S. states and local governments and expanding unemployment benefits.
Debate on this and other matters was marked by complaints from the Republican opposition about what they call out-of-control spending by Democrats and President Obama. Republican Jeb Hensarling of Texas:
"You cannot spend your way into more jobs, you cannot borrow your way into more jobs, you cannot bailout your way into more jobs," said Jeb Hensarling. "That is not the recipe."
Texas Democrat Sheila Jackson Lee said Democrats and President Obama have merely responded to damage from Republican policies that contributed to the current recession:
"We are in this predicament because the last administration of Republican leadership took away our surplus that had been created [under Democrats] in the 1990s," said Sheila Jackson. "They dashed and dashed and destroyed and devastated. Isn't it interesting that you come now to complain about a leadership, president and Democratic leadership in Congress that have had to make the political sacrifice to ensure that Americans can work?
The House also narrowly approved a nearly $290 billion increase in the legal maximum for the national debt which already stood at $12.1 trillion.
In the most dramatic moment of the day, Senate Republicans used a procedural tactic to force a 3 hour delay in efforts by Democrats to move closer to a possible vote on health care reform, an item of paramount importance for President Obama.
An angry Bernie Sanders, Independent senator from Vermont, responded to the Republican move which forced his 700 page amendment proposing a government-run single-payer health insurance system to be read in full to delay Senate business.
"The best the Republicans can do is try to bring the U.S. government to a halt by forcing a reading of a 700 page amendment," said Bernie Sanders. "That is an outrage. People can have honest disagreements. But in this moment of crisis, it is wrong to bring the U.S. government to a halt."
Though President Obama hopes the Senate can approve its version of health care reform by Christmas, Republican delaying tactics created new obstacles to a possible vote on the legislation.
Doing nothing is not an option, said Senate majority leader Harry Reid, while Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell called the Democrat's bill fundamentally flawed.
REID: "This isn't about balance sheets or graphs or charts, it's not about contracts or fine print, it's not about politics or partisanship. This is about life and death in America."
MCCONNELL: "Americans oppose the Democratic plan because they know the final product is a collosal, legislative mistake."
Democrats still need a 60 vote majority to win approval of health care legislation, and continued to try to secure the support of one key senator, Connecticut Independent Joe Lieberman. Any Senate-passed bill would still have to be reconciled with a version passed already by the House.
While House Democrats intended Wednesday's votes to be the last for the year, majority leader Steny Hoyer cautioned lawmakers they may be called back to deal with any health care measure the Senate might complete in coming days.
Failure of the Senate to approve its health care bill would deal a blow to President Obama's hopes of approval this year, and push that politically-sensitive issue into 2010, a mid-term congressional election year.