Feb. 12, 2016 SIGN IN | REGISTER

Senate Wraps Up Business for the Year, Ball Now in House's Court

Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call
Sen. John Thune was one of 89 Senators to vote for a bill to extend the payroll tax holiday. The Senate also passed a full-year appropriations bills in its final vote of the year.

The Senate concluded its legislative work for the year today, approving a sweeping omnibus bill and legislation to extend a payroll tax holiday, unemployment benefits and the Medicare "doc fix," in addition to a disaster relief bill.

The Senate approved the full-year appropriations bill, which passed the House Friday, 67-32. The legislation now goes President Barack Obama's desk to be signed into law.

But the achievement of passing an actual package of appropriations bills, significant because of Congress' recent reliance on stop-gap measures known as continuing resolutions, was overshadowed by a protracted fight over the year-end extenders package that did not find resolution until late Friday evening.

The Senate cleared the two-month extension of the payroll tax holiday, unemployment insurance and a patch for reimbursements for doctors who treat Medicare patients on an 89-10 vote. The measure included a contentious provision regarding the Keystone XL oil pipeline, which the president had said he would not accept.

Now, if the House passes the package early next week, Obama likely will have to sign into law the Keystone language, which would require the administration to decide within 60 days whether to authorize the project.

Democrats had been fighting for a one-year extension of the payroll tax cut, though only a few weeks ago they had also advocated expanding it to employers and increasing the breaks to employees.

Republicans wanted sweeping unemployment insurance reform that would drastically reduce the number of weeks the unemployed would qualify for benefits, allow states to drug test as a condition for benefits and create a largely unfunded mandate to require unemployed Americans without high school degrees to make progress toward a GED certificate.

By not agreeing to a year-long deal, the debate has simply been pushed to February. But benefits for the unemployed and tax breaks for workers will not be dropped around the holidays, and that is a small victory, lawmakers say.

It wasn't always clear negotiators would be able to come to agreement, even on a more modest alternative. 
Early last week, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) had been encouraged to negotiate a deal by Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio).

The largest sticking point between Democrats and Republicans was how to pay for the bill. Congress historically has not offset all tax cuts nor unemployment benefit extensions in tough economic times, but the deficit-reduction focus in the Capitol changed the approach.

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