One final push by 109th Congress

Tax and trade bill approved in early morning

December 10, 2006|By New York Times News Service

WASHINGTON -- Republicans relinquished their political grip on Capitol Hill early yesterday as the 109th Congress adjourned after a final spurt of legislation and accusation.

In one of their last acts in the majority, Republican leaders forced through a broad tax and trade bill. The bill was packed with provisions that drew substantial bipartisan support after harsh opposition melted away when it became obvious that the legislation was headed to the president, and lawmakers were ready to head home after a difficult year.

"I recognize I am going to lose," said Sen. Judd Gregg, a New Hampshire Republican, in making a final, futile procedural attack against the measure, which was approved on a 79-9 vote just before 2 a.m. The House had passed the provisions in two separate packages.

With the conclusion of the Congress, four years of full Republican control over the apparatus of Washington came to an end because of election gains that will install Democrats in the House and Senate majorities when Congress reconvenes Jan. 4. The election also interrupted 12 straight years of Republican reign in the House, where the departing majority steamrolled Democrats for years.

Reactions to the looming transfer of power depended on whether a "D" or an "R" followed a lawmaker's name.

Sen. Charles E. Schumer, a New York Democrat, who was instrumental in engineering the Democratic takeover of the Senate, beamed as he left the chamber. "Not a bad year," Schumer said.

But Republicans were subdued, with some who were defeated in November saying goodbye to colleagues and staff members, and lingering a few extra minutes on the floor after casting their last votes.

In the House, Rep. Dennis Hastert of Illinois made his final speech as speaker and received a hug and a kiss on the cheek from the incoming speaker, Rep. Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat and a frequent target of Republican attacks.

"Those of us on this side of the aisle will become the loyal opposition, and the gentle lady from California, Mrs. Pelosi, will assume the duties as our speaker," Hastert said. "I know she will do so with skill and grace and that she will bring honor to this institution."

The trade measure, a compendium of last-minute priorities sent to President Bush, was the chief legislative accomplishment of the final hours. It restored $38 billion in popular tax breaks, established normal trade relations with Vietnam and granted trade benefits to Haiti and four South American countries, and blocked a cut in Medicare payments to doctors. The measure also fulfilled a long-sought objective of Gulf Coast lawmakers and the oil industry by expanding offshore drilling opportunities in the eastern Gulf of Mexico and directing hundreds of millions of dollars in new royalties to the region.

"Just when everyone bet against us, Republicans put together a broad package of energy, tax, trade and health care measures," said Sen. Bill Frist of Tennessee, whose four-year tenure as majority leader concluded with the final gavel in the Senate at 4:40 a.m.

Hours earlier, just minutes before a midnight deadline, the Senate approved a stopgap measure to maintain financing for government agencies at current or lower levels through Feb. 15 -- a temporary fix required because Congress had failed to pass nine of the 11 routine spending bills that were due Oct. 1.

That collapse raised complaints from Democrats that Republicans were irresponsibly leaving them with major unfinished business to take care of next year. Some Republicans were pointing fingers as well.

"The breakdown of regular order this cycle -- indeed the failure to get our bills done -- should be squarely placed at the feet of the departing Senate majority leader, who failed to schedule floor time for the consideration of appropriations bills," Rep. Jerry Lewis, a California Republican and the departing chairman of the Appropriations Committee, said in an unusual public attack on a fellow Republican.

As they plowed through legislation in the early morning, Congress also whisked through a package of three major health care initiatives that continued a program for HIV and AIDS that will provide more than $6 billion for care over three years, created an agency to centralize efforts against bioterrorism and restructured the National Institutes of Health.

"Tonight, Congress put partisanship aside to do the right thing for the health of millions of Americans," said Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, a Massachusetts Democrat who helped squeeze through the health legislation.

With the House's approval before adjourning at 3:15 a.m., Congress also gave an overhaul to fisheries laws, trying to limit overfishing of certain species.

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