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While you were sleeping: Sneaky midnight-hour Senate moves; EduJobs rejected, Commerce nominee/solar subsidy mogul approved, Fannie/Freddie loan limits increased

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By Michelle Malkin  •  October 21, 2011 02:11 AM

Yes, I’m still awake. Up at 4am this morning and still going. Got home after a speech in Denver late tonight to find that the Senate (going on 900 + days without a budget) was up to all sorts of stealthy business in the midnight hour.

As of 1:28am, the Senate was casting procedural votes on the FY 2012 federal spending bill.

Guess what else they did?

They approved the nomination of solar subsidy king and eco-radical John Bryson.

Details on that vote:

John Bryson, confirmed by the U.S. Senate as Commerce secretary, will take a leading role in the Obama administration’s efforts to reduce an unemployment rate stuck above 9 percent and push to double U.S. imports.

Bryson, 68, the former head of Edison International in California, replaces Gary Locke, who became U.S. ambassador to China in August. The Senate vote last night on Bryson, who Obama chose at the end of May, was 74-26, with 21 Republicans and two independents joining all the Democrats in support.

Here’s the roll call vote

Guess what else they did? They paved the way for more Fannie/Freddie taxpayer crutches:

The U.S. Senate adopted a measure that would raise the maximum size of a home loan backed by mortgage companies Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and the Federal Housing Administration to $729,750.

Senator Robert Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat, offered the increase as an amendment to a spending bill today. The measure was approved less than a month after the limit on so-called conforming loans was automatically reduced to $625,500.

“If we want to get the economy moving, the housing market has to be part of it,” Menendez said tonight on the Senate floor.

The Senate adopted the amendment 60-3[8]. The amendment required 60 votes for approval and was offered during the chamber’s consideration of a package of spending measures. If the Senate passes the underlying bill, the House would then have to vote for it to become law.

The higher limits, should they be signed into law, would apply until Dec. 31, 2013. Lawmakers would pay for the cost of the higher limits by imposing an annual fee on the loans of 15 basis points of the unpaid principal balance of the mortgage.

Here’s the roll call vote on that:

Also in the dead of night: The Senate blocked two parts of the EduJobs bailout bill I’ve been telling you about:

Two elements of President Barack Obama’s jobs bill failed on procedural votes when Senators tried to move them as individual measures late Thursday. The chamber then plunged ahead on a long series of votes on amendments to a package of three appropriations bills before advancing the measure, setting up a vote on passage for the week of Oct. 31.

A Democratic proposal to provide $35 billion to keep teachers and first responders from being laid off was the first portion of Obama’s $447 billion jobs proposal to receive an individual vote. It went down 50-50, short of the 60 needed for the Senate to take up the measure. Three Members of the Democratic Conference — Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) and Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) — joined all Republicans in opposing the procedural motion.

Democrats have argued that the bill would save roughly 300,000 educator jobs and about 100,000 first responder jobs.

“By supporting such jobs, the plan aims to keep communities safe from crime and able to maintain critical emergency response capabilities,” the White House said in a statement of administration policy.

The measure would have been paid for by a 0.5 percent tax on those making more than $1 million a year.

Republicans have argued that the offset would hurt small-business owners, who often report business income and losses on their personal tax returns, as the nation struggles with high unemployment, which was at 9.1 percent in September.

“Everybody in this body knows that the American people want us to do something about the jobs crisis,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said. “What Republicans have been saying is that raising taxes on business owners isn’t the way to do it.”

Here was the 50-50 roll call vote on that:

Other business:

- Ending federal subsidies for wealthy farmers.

- Killing a GOP-led effort to bar civilian trials for foreign terror suspects.

And finally getting around to the federal “minibus” spending package in the witching hour, the Senate heaped on disaster aid in addition to those expanded federal housing credits to the spending bills before calling it a night:

Voting well past midnight and into early Friday morning, the Senate added new disaster aid and expanded housing credit to a $182 billion spending bill even as members embraced a populist amendment denying farm subsidies to individuals with an average adjusted gross income of over $1 million.

“Rather than tax millionaires, the first thing we ought to do is quit giving them subsidies,” said Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), the lead sponsor. Senate Agriculture Committee leaders vainly appealed for their colleagues to wait until promised reforms in the new farm bill, but with the handwriting on the wall, even old allies deserted sending the final tally up to 84-15 for Coburn’s language.

The late-night session followed another long day of dithering, but before sending senators home for a week-long recess, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid at least secured the cloture motion he needed to tightly control debate when they return.

The Nevada Democrat, a long-time veteran of the appropriations, seemed alternately pleased and dismayed by what he called his “noble experiment” in legislating this week. And the winning procedural vote, 83-16 was only completed past 1:30 a.m.

Even if the Senate completes the appropriations package quickly when it returns Oct. 31 — as now promised — it will still have acted on only four of the 12 annual appropriations bills for the new fiscal year that began Oct. 1. With stopgap funding due to expire Nov 18, the House is increasingly impatient with the process and more likely to press for a single omnibus bill approach.

…The housing credit-related provisions forced, perhaps, the most closely fought fight. And the bipartisan coalition only narrowly got to the 60 vote threshold required for an amendment restoring higher conforming loan limits for government backed home mortgage loans.

These higher limits of up to $729,750 in high cost areas had fallen back to $625,500 at the end of last month, and proponents argued that this reduction was already having an adverse impact on a weak housing market.

The 60-38 roll call — not decided until the final moment — was followed soon after by a failed attempt by conservatives to tighten procedures for qualifying for food stamps.

Gotta love the Vampire Congress. As I’ve noted before, Democrat leaders have been promising the most ethical, transparent, open, and engaged administration for years. Instead, they have delivered a bleak and creepy legislative environment that could double as a Twilight movie set.

Here’s a complete list of all the roll call votes that took place out of daylight’s glare.

Same old, same old business as usual.

Boo!

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