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Congress Wraps Up a Day Early; Pro Forma Session Will Forestall Recess Appointments

...for votes. (photo: anujraj)

Eager to get home to campaigning, Congress completed a pre-election session with few pieces of legislation and big questions on topics like the Bush tax cuts. Let’s take a look at what happened on the final day:

• The intelligence authorization bill passed the House, and now goes to the President for the first time since 2004. The President’s advisers have indicated he’ll sign it. The compromise measure affords Congress and the GAO some more oversight over intelligence agencies. Marcy has her assessment here.

• The continuing resolution to fund the government through December 3 passed both chambers late last night. The bill keeps the lights on at government agencies and includes very little new spending other than a $624 million bit of nuclear pork for Jon Kyl meant to grease the skids for the new START treaty, which will apparently get a vote in the lame duck session. The Interior Department also got a bit more money for inspectors of oil rigs, in the wake of the BP disaster. But other add-ons, like money for Pell Grants, the TANF Emergency Fund, and the Cobell-Pigford II black farmers settlement, were kept out of the bill.

• A bill that would force high duties on any imports from countries that manipulate their currency, targeted specifically at China, passed the House 348-79, with more Republicans in favor than opposed. Whether the Senate will take up a version of this, or whether the President supports it, is unclear, but the bill certainly gives leverage to the White House, if they choose to use it, in negotiations with China over allowing the renminbi to appreciate.

• In addition to delaying action on the Bush tax cuts, the House declined to move a child nutrition bill promoted by First Lady Michelle Obama. House liberals, led by Jim McGovern (D-MA), could not see their way clear to using food stamp cuts to pay for more generous school lunches. “The way you are going to pay for a child nutrition bill is by dipping into people’s food stamps? Give me a break,” McGovern said.

• NASA Authorization wrapped up, which extended the life of the space shuttle program by a year. The President will sign the measure. Also, Congress will rename a mountain in Alaska after Ted Stevens.

• The 9/11 health workers bill, providing health care and compensation to those sickened while helping to clean up Ground Zero, finally passed the House, but its future in the Senate is uncertain.

• Janet Yellen and Sarah Bloom Raskin finally got confirmed by the Senate as members of the Federal Reserve’s Board of Governors. Peter Diamond, another nominee, will have to wait until the lame duck session. The confirmations were part of a large deal, where some nominees got to move through the Senate in exchange for Democrats holding pro forma sessions so President Obama could not make any recess appointments. The 54 nominees confirmed included 12 ambassadors, 11 U.S. Marshals, 6 U.S. attorneys and one district court judge. Basically, Mitch McConnell threatened to send everyone back to the White House:

Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) had threatened to send Obama’s most controversial nominees back to the president if Democrats did not agree to schedule pro-forma sessions, according to a senior GOP aide.

Senate rules give McConnell this power.

That would have forced the president to resubmit the nominees to the Senate and Democrats to start their confirmation processes (including hearings) all over again.

That’s about it.

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David Dayen

David Dayen