WASHINGTON — A budget agreement between key Republicans and Democrats. Even President Barack Obama was on board. Gridlock, however briefly, took an early holiday in the bitterly polarized, Republican-run House.
But across the Capitol, the high-minded Senate remained in the grip of some of the worst partisan warfare in its history after majority Democrats curbed the Republicans’ power. A round-the-clock talkathon is the result. Majority Leader Harry Reid threatened to shorten the Senate’s cherished Christmas vacation if need be.
Lawmakers have lurched from sequester to shutdown over spending, national health care and more in the three years since Republicans won control of the House with a sizable group of newcomers reluctant to compromise.
Their approach proved costly — to the nation’s credit rating, to Congress’ standing among voters and to the GOP.
The scene has been no better in the Senate. What remained of that chamber’s deliberative nature blew apart last month when majority Democrats curtailed the Republicans’ power to block some presidential nominees.
Republicans have tried this week to do what they can to protest, but Reid’s slate of 11 nominations didn’t appear in peril. Early Thursday morning, the Senate approved the first of those, voting 51-44 to confirm Cornelia “Nina” Pillard to the influential U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.
Democrats continued their promised march of confirmation votes on Thursday, approving Chai Rachel Feldblum for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Elizabeth A. Wolford to be a judge for the Western District of New York and Landya B. McCafferty for a judgeship in the U.S. District of New Hampshire.
Also approved were Patricia M. Wald to the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board and Brian Morris and Susan Watters to be judges for the U.S. District of Montana.
Republicans used another tool to poke Democrats and slow nominations by invoking a rule that can stop Senate committees from meeting if they start more than two hours after the chamber convenes each day. Republicans scuttled three scheduled meetings on nominations.
Still, there was something unexpected this week: Instead of the standoffs, demands and disrespect that have become routine, key Republicans and Democrats announced a budget deal.
Authored by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and quickly endorsed by Obama, the agreement would avert another government shutdown in January and reverse $63 billion in across-the-board spending cuts. It would offset the higher spending with $85 billion over a decade from higher fees and modest curbs on government benefit programs.
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