WASHINGTON – In a surprisingly suspenseful vote, the Senate cleared a key parliamentary hurdle Saturday on a huge spending bill for almost half the federal government, a measure that increases funding for the agencies it covers by an average of 10 percent.
The Senate voted 60 to 34 to close off debate on the must-pass omnibus spending bill. But in order to end a Republican filibuster, Democrats had to hold open the 15-minute vote for an additional 50 minutes so 92-year-old Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., could be wheeled in and Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., could walk to the chamber from his synagogue in Georgetown.
Byrd has been ailing most of this year and votes only on important matters. Lieberman, an Orthodox Jew, honors the Sabbath by refusing to drive and by rarely working on Saturdays unless absolutely necessary.
“Shabbat shalom (peaceful sabbath),” Lieberman said to photographers as he entered the Capitol, after attending morning services on the second day of Hanukkah and then walking more than three miles to the Capitol on a cold December morning. He cast the 60th vote for the $446.8 billion spending bill covering the Justice and State departments, among other agencies.
A final vote is scheduled for today. The House passed the measure last week, and President Barack Obama has indicated he will sign the bill.
Another critical spending measure will be considered next week in the House. A $626 billion funding bill for the Pentagon, traditionally a bipartisan vote, is quickly becoming a legislative Christmas tree with other must-pass ornaments attached.
Democrats expect to add a provision increasing the national debt limit to more than $13 trillion, from $12.1 trillion, as well as $70 billion in funds for a jobs package focused heavily on infrastructure programs and on extensions of normal federal highway construction programs and the USA Patriot Act. Republicans have traditionally supported all military funding bills, but they are considering opposing the omnibus defense bill because of the possible add-ons.