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Congress Ends With a Flurry

In keeping with the marathon nature of the 111th Congress, the vote was held open for more than an hour. Several House sources indicated that the wait was for Rep. Nydia Velázquez (D-N.Y.), but her office denied the vote was held exclusively for her. A spokesperson said that she was returning to Washington after dealing with a family issue and that several other Members also arrived at the end of the vote. 

Senate Republicans had their share of success in the 111th Congress as well, even with Democrats controlling both chambers and the White House. They regularly exercised strict discipline to either block bills or extract deep concessions from Democrats, a strategy that has served Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) well. It was on full display during the lame duck, when Republicans were able to essentially dictate the terms of the $858 billion tax cut bill and when Sen. Tom Coburn (Okla.) was able to extract last-minute changes to the Sept. 11 first responders bill. McConnell’s evisceration of the omnibus appropriations bill, meanwhile, sets the stage for a showdown on spending between an ascendant GOP and Obama early next year.

But Republicans also suffered losses, including the “don’t ask, don’t tell” repeal and START votes. McConnell was unable to rally enough GOP opposition, or loyalty to his office, to block those measures.

As Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) sent his colleagues on their way Wednesday, it was with mixed emotions that some Members departed the chamber.

Following the vote to ratify START, Sens. Bob Bennett (R-Utah), George Voinovich (R-Ohio), Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.), Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) and others who are retiring or were defeated Nov. 2 lingered on the floor to say farewell to their colleagues and a building that some, like Dodd, have called home for decades.

The loss was apparent on the faces of many who won’t return for the 112th Congress, including Sen. George LeMieux (R-Fla.). He will return home to an uncertain political future as a possible challenger to Sen. Bill Nelson (D) in 2012.

LeMieux, whose desk in the Senate is closest to the chamber’s east door, sat for several long, quiet minutes in his chair, looking on as clerks and pages prepared to end the session and his colleagues said goodbye to one another.

For others, it seemed as if escape from Washington couldn’t come soon enough: Sens. Kit Bond (R-Mo.), Jim Bunning (R-Ky.) and Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) all missed Wednesday’s START ratification vote.

One freshman Senator was having difficulty fitting in to his new surroundings. Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), who skipped votes Sunday to attend a holiday party in Illinois with donors and who mocked Reid on the floor last week, continued to ruffle the chamber’s genteel feathers Wednesday. First Kirk attempted to make a “perfecting amendment” to a START proposal authored by Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) that was already the subject of a unanimous consent agreement.

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