The Senate held a marathon session beginning Friday to wrap up votes on critical measures before the holiday weekend. After a series of votes overnight, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., announced early Saturday that the Senate would begin a weeklong Memorial Day break and return on Sunday, May 31.
Here’s a look at what was voted on:
The Senate blocked both a House-passed bill and a short-term extension of the USA Patriot Act during an early Saturday vote. The bill would have moved the bulk collection of domestic phone records from the National Security Agency to being held by telecom companies.
The vote on the bill was 57-42, and the extension was 45-54, both short of the 60 votes needed to move forward. The provision is on its way to expiring on June 1 with no real path to being reauthorized before it lapses for at least a brief period of time.
The bill’s most vocal opponent has been Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., who took to the Senate floor Wednesday and spoke in a 10 ½-hour filibuster-like speech in opposition of the government’s bulk collection of data. Paul has vowed to oppose not only any clean extension of the program, but also the USA Freedom Act, which he says does not go far enough.
Justice and National Security officials warned that if the Senate did not pass the compromise replacement legislation for the Patriot Act before the holiday recess, the NSA will have to start dismantling bulk collection of metadata records to avoid both practical and legal problems.
‘FAST-TRACK’ TRADE BILL
Earlier in the session, the Senate passed a bill that would give President Barack Obama “fast-track” authority to negotiate the massive 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact without the threat of Congress adding amendments or filibustering the final deal.
The hotly contested bill, called Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), passed 62-37.
The legislation passed Friday night also includes a re-authorization of Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA), which is a federal aid program for American workers who have lost their jobs as a result of foreign trade.
The bill now goes to the House, where Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., is working on garnering the support to pass it in that chamber. Many believe passage in the House will be a harder pull than it was in the Senate.
The bill put Republicans in the rare position of being on the same side of an issue as Obama, who has requested the fast-track authority. Those who oppose the measure believe trade deals lower middle class wages and cost jobs in the United States. Many Democrats also wanted provisions included in the bill which would help address currency manipulation, provisions that many Republicans considered a poison pill to the deal.
“I want to thank Senators of both parties for sticking up for American workers by supporting smart trade and strong enforcement, and I encourage the House of Representatives to follow suit by passing TPA and TAA as soon as possible,” Obama said prepared statement.
HIGHWAY AND TRANSIT AID BILL
The Senate also approved a House-passed two month extension of federal funding for highway and transit programs before program funding expired at the end of this month. The measure was approved by voice vote early Saturday and will be sent to Obama, who is expected to sign.