Congress Wraps Up Contentious Session To Campaign

As Congress hastens to adjourn for midterm campaigning, both the House and Senate have brought up legislation aimed at protecting American workers from foreign competition. In the Senate, Republicans blocked a bill that would have taken away tax incentives for corporations that move U.S. jobs offshore. In the House, Republicans joined Democrats in passing a bill that allows U.S. firms to demand tariffs on goods from countries with overvalued currencies — namely China.

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ARI SHAPIRO, host:

Congress wrapped up another contentious session here in Washington last night. Many lawmakers were eager to get back to their home districts to campaign.

Congress's final act was to pass a temporary spending measure that keeps the federal government from shutting down tomorrow, the first day of the new fiscal year.

NPR's David Welna has our report.

DAVID WELNA: As lawmakers disbanded a week and a half earlier than first planned, Republicans took a few parting shots at the Democrats they hope to trounce in November.

Senator minority leader Mitch McConnell suggested those Democrats will have a hard time running on what theyve done or haven't done, while in charge of Congress.

Senator MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY, Minority Leader): It is striking here as we end the session that our good friends, on the other side, have been told by their pollsters that there's almost nothing they can talk about.

WELNA: But one thing Democrats do intend to talk about, is how efforts to pass legislation they say protects American jobs, have been opposed by Republicans. This week in the Senate, a bill that ends tax incentives for sending jobs overseas ran into a GOP roadblock. It was sponsored by North Dakota Democrat Byron Dorgan.

Senator BYRON DORGAN (Democrat, North Dakota): And regrettably, not one member of the minority voted with us. That is a profound disappointment. But we'll all get over that, but the people that are unemployed won't get over it if these jobs keep moving overseas - and that's the point.

WELNA: Republicans said the point was actually to bring up the bill right before a big election. Oren Hatch is a Utah Republican.

Senator OREN HATCH (Republican, Utah): Oh, it's pure politics. I mean, everything they've done lately is just pure politics.

WELNA: And Democrats contend everything Senate Republicans have done lately has been aimed at preventing the majority from getting anything done. Here's Missouri's Claire McCaskill.

Senator CLAIRE MCCASKILL (Democrat, Missouri): I mean, we couldn't pass motherhood and apple pie right now 'cause they would say it was some kind of anti-business socialist takeover.

WELNA: Meanwhile, House Democrats brought up a bill yesterday that lets the U.S. slap trade sanctions on China for undervaluing its currency. That practice makes Chinese exports cheaper while making it more costly to import goods from the U.S. Oregon Democrat Peter DeFazio said it comes down to a question of whose side are you really on.

Representative PETER DEFAZIO (Democrat, Oregon): Are you with the American people and fair trade or are you with the Chinese, the big international corporations and their excuse for free trade - which is manipulating currencies, trade barriers and taking our jobs away from our workers? Plain and simple.

WELNA: Texas Republican Jeb Hensarling said he was with the households that would have to pay higher prices for Chinese imports and U.S. firms that could face trade war retaliation if the bill passed.

Representative JEB HENSARLING (Republican, Texas): Precipitating a trade war at a time when we're in tough economic times, making it more difficult for consumers to afford the items they need to provide for their families, I think is unwise public policy. And so I would urge a defeat of this legislation.

WELNA: It was an issue that split Republicans - 99 of them voted for the trade sanctions, while 74 were opposed. All but five House Democrats voted to crackdown on China's currency practices. The Senate took no action on the bill.

There was no action, as well, in either chamber on what may be the most contentious issue lawmakers face: what to do about the Bush era tax cuts that expire at the end of the year. In a floor speech yesterday, House minority leader John Boehner blasted Democrats for leaving without first making all those tax cuts permanent.

Representative JOHN BOEHNER (Republican, Ohio, Minority Leader): And how any member could vote to adjourn and pump this into a lame duck session, I think, is putting your election above the needs of your constituents.

WELNA: But in fact, neither Republicans nor Democrats saw much point in prolonging this fractious pre-election session. Senate majority leader Harry Reid, who's facing a tough reelection contest, said he, for one, will really be glad to get home to Nevada.

Senator HARRY REID (Democrat, Nevada, Majority Leader): We may not agree on much, but I think with rare exception all 100 senators want to get out of here and get back to their states.

WELNA: As for the unfinished spending bills and the unresolved expiring tax cuts, all that and more awaits lawmakers when they return in mid-November for a lame duck session.

David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol.

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