U.S. Capitol

By Ed O’Keefe and Sean Sullivan
December 16, 2014 at 10:51 PM

The least-productive Congress in modern history drew to an abrupt close late Tuesday as the U.S. Senate extended dozens of expired tax breaks but failed to renew a federally backed terrorism insurance program supported by big businesses and major sports leagues.

Democrats controlling the Senate also secured agreements from Republicans to confirm at least six dozen of President Obama’s nominees to serve as federal judges, agency bosses and on myriad government boards, a last-minute coup for the White House since most of the picks faced tougher odds next year once Republicans take full control of Capitol Hill.

Word of a final agreement allowing senators to vote a final time and leave Washington for the holidays came shortly before 10 p.m., prompting senators to rush back into the U.S. Capitol for a final vote.

“Thank God it’s over!” Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W. Va.) said as he exited the Senate chamber afterward.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.), the second-ranking Republican, complained that Democrats had rushed too many nominees through in the closing days. “This is lamer than most lame-ducks,” he said.

But outgoing Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) disagreed: “We did okay this time. But, we’ve had better.” As for next year, Reid said he hopes “that we can have a little civility in the Senate.”

Senators waited most of the day on plans to wrap up unfinished business until party leaders quickly called a vote late Tuesday on a plan to extend dozens of tax breaks for individuals and businesses. The short-term extension fell short of a more ambitious agreement sought by members of both parties that collapsed amid threats of a White House veto.

Under the deal, millions of businesses and individual taxpayers will be able to claim long-standing deductions and credits worth $45 billion on their 2014 tax returns. But the perks expire again on Dec. 31, meaning lawmakers will be forced to fight all over again on the issue next year.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), the outgoing chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, voted against the package Tuesday night and lamented that the extension “doesn’t have the shelf life of a carton of eggs.”

Meanwhile, Senate leaders failed to convince retiring Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) to lift his block on legislation reauthorizing a government-backed terrorism insurance program. His opposition upended plans to reauthorize the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act after the House did so last week with more than 400 votes.

Coburn, long ago dubbed “Dr. No” for his ruthless legislative style, opposed the bill because it included language establishing a new national clearinghouse for insurers that he said states wouldn’t be able to opt out of, aides said. He blamed Democratic leaders for the protracted congressional session.

“It’s not anything unusual under Harry Reid’s leadership,” he said, adding as he walked away: “Or lack thereof.”

To read entire story, click here.