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US Senators do a deal

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26 July 2015

Mitch McConnell

Mr. McConnell either promised Members some bourbon after the key vote, or had a little too much himself before it.

WASHINGTON, D.C -- The U.S. Senate met in a rare Sunday session so that both political parties could show they had not grown rusty at the art of hypocrisy.

The occasion was the five-year renewal of the highway spending bill. The government "trust" fund is about to run out of money, so a new law was needed — so badly as to be a vehicle for all sorts of amendments that would not survive on their own.

While renewing the spending, the bill did not say where the money comes from. This will be left to negotiators in August, as more constituents go on vacation; or perhaps another Sunday session on Labor Day weekend as voters are stuck in traffic. A prime funding candidate is to address the problem of large American corporations refusing to bring their profits home to the Cradle of Liberty, which has the world's highest taxes — and the prime strategy is to just tax it anyway.

The options of ceasing to spend money on roadside sculptures, bicycle paths, Light Rail to deserted parts of town, and paying unionized workers more than necessary until a paper cut or allergy attack lands them on Permanent Disability, are not on the table.

To make the bill palatable to both Republicans and Democrats, Senate President Mitch McConnell allowed several amendments. Republicans were able to vote to repeal Obama-care, as it has been weeks since they have taken such a vote. Like the previous four dozen votes, this one had no actual effect except to remind voters that Republicans really, really dislike the law — though most have written one or more bills to "make it work."

Democrats, for their part, got a break from railing against "corporate welfare" to vote to revive the Export-Import Bank, an agency that borrows money from China to send it to airlines in Argentina to buy jets with engines from American companies that lobby the government, at the expense of American companies that do not lobby the government. Members then resumed bashing the rich.

Unlike the Obama-care vote, the Ex-Im vote will take effect. Candidate Ted Cruz (R-TX) all but called Sen. McConnell a liar for telling Sen. Cruz that the Ex-Im Bank, whose lending authority expired last month, would stay dead. Sen. McConnell did not retaliate against his colleague — such as by calling him naïve to think that one could kill a federal agency — as Republican voters need to hear that they are only this far away from getting results by moving the same politicians to different seats.

Sen. McConnell clarified that, if one were going to kill the agency rather than simply tell voters he had, Congress would not just have removed the legal authority for bureaucrats to do anything, but would have removed the bureaucrats themselves. Some might become flagmen or ditch-diggers, rather than go directly to Permanent Disability. However, this method of securing "highway funding" was not on the table either.

A Republican spokesman said the rare Sunday session should reinforce the party's 2014 rhetoric, and voters' decision, to take power away from the Democrats and give it to a party capable of "reaching across the aisle" to the Democrats. The transportation bill follows the bill on the agreement slow-walking Iran to a nuclear arsenal, by renaming it from a "treaty," for which the Constitution requires two-thirds Senate approval, to a "deal" under rules that require two-thirds to say no. In the House, Speaker John Boehner explained again that Republicans capitulated on procedure but would fall back and stand firm on the agreement itself.

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