The House on Wednesday evening passed a motion to adjourn the 111th Congress “Sine Die,” bringing to a close Democrats' four-year reign in the lower chamber.
It also ended what has been the most productive lame-duck session in recent memory.
The House received a message informing it of an adjournment resolution passed earlier in the day by the Senate and moved to adjourn by voice vote, marking the end of Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) tenure as Speaker.
A House Democratic aide noted, however, that Pelosi is still Speaker until Jan. 5, when House Republican John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerRift widens between business groups and House GOP Juan Williams: Pelosi shows her power Debt ceiling games endanger US fiscal credibility — again MORE (Ohio) will take the gavel.
The floor was virtually empty except for Reps. Jim McDermottJames (Jim) Adelbert McDermottSondland has 'no intention of resigning,' associate says Three women accuse Gordon Sondland of sexual misconduct Portland hotel chain founded by Trump ambassador says boycott is attack on employees MORE (D-Wash.), Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.), Mike Conaway (R-Texas) and a few staffers who offered a round of sporadic applause to mark the occasion.
In the Senate, lawmakers rushed off the floor to catch planes home after casting their final two roll-call votes of the year on New START treaty and the nomination of Mary Helen Murguia to serve on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit.
Democrats touted the busy lame duck as a fitting end to what they are calling one of the most productive Congresses in recent history.
“This was, by far, the most productive Congress in American history,” Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidDemocrats brace for tough election year in Nevada The Memo: Biden's horizon is clouded by doubt Fight over Biden agenda looms large over Virginia governor's race MORE (D-Nev.) said on the Senate floor Wednesday evening. “And the lame-duck session we’re finishing was the most productive of its kind. Why? Because we heard the message the American people sent us last month: They don’t want us to sit around and waste their time. They want us to work together and work for them.”
Senate Democrats and Republicans joined together to pass a string of major accomplishments, including an $858 billion tax relief and unemployment benefits package, repeal of the military’s “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, and ratification of the New START treaty.
Reid also ticked off Democrats accomplishments before the midterm election, which include passage of a $787 billion economic stimulus package, sweeping healthcare reform and an overhaul of the financial services industry.
“This lame duck is typical of the Congress, it’s a very productive Congress,” said Sen. Carl LevinCarl Milton LevinOvernight Defense: First group of Afghan evacuees arrives in Virginia | Biden signs Capitol security funding bill, reimbursing Guard | Pentagon raises health protection level weeks after lowering it Biden pays tribute to late Sen. Levin: 'Embodied the best of who we are' Former Colorado Gov. Richard Lamm dead at 85 MORE (D-Mich.), chairman of the Armed Services Committee, who struck a deal to pass the defense authorization bill Wednesday morning.
“I don’t remember any lame duck that was as productive of this but I don’t remember any Congress that was as productive of this,” said Levin, who was elected to the Senate in 1978.
Also on Wednesday, the Senate passed by unanimous consent a 9/11 healthcare bill to set up a benefits program for emergency personnel and clean-up workers suffering from illnesses related to the time they spent at the World Trade Center disaster site. The last-minute agreement was hammered out by Sens. Charles SchumerChuck SchumerBiden's Supreme Court commission ends not with a bang but a whimper Hispanic organizations call for Latino climate justice in reconciliation Senate to vote next week on Freedom to Vote Act MORE (D-N.Y.) and Tom CoburnThomas (Tom) Allen CoburnBiden and AOC's reckless spending plans are a threat to the planet NSF funding choice: Move forward or fall behind DHS establishes domestic terror unit within its intelligence office MORE (R-Okla.) who shaved the cost of the program down from $6.2 billion to $4.2 billion. The House approved it by a vote of 206-60 Wednesday afternoon.
Levin credited the burst of productivity to Reid’s decision to keep the Senate in session up until Jan. 5 if necessary to finish its final legislative priorities.
“Given the fact that we were willing to go all the way to Christmas or New Year’s, I’m not surprised,” said Levin. “I think that was the critical decision.”
Some Republicans have grumbled about the string of legislative accomplishments.
Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamA pandemic of hyper-hypocrisy is infecting American politics Republicans' mantra should have been 'Stop the Spread' Senators preview bill to stop tech giants from prioritizing their own products MORE (R-S.C.) slammed his fellow Republicans Tuesday for acceding to a “capitulation … of dramatic proportions” to Democrats in the lame-duck Congress.
But other Republican senators pointed to the victories the party won in the lame duck.
Republicans blocked an effort last week to pass a $1.1 trillion omnibus spending bill that included more than 6,000 earmarks.
Most GOP senators view the tax package, which extended almost all of the Bush-era tax cuts and set the estate tax at 35 percent for individual inheritances over $5 million, as a major victory. The bill also extended federal unemployment benefits for 13 months, but that accounted for only $56.5 billion of the total cost.
Sen. Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchLobbying world Congress, stop holding 'Dreamers' hostage Drug prices are declining amid inflation fears MORE (Utah), who will become the senior Republican on the Finance Committee next year, said the tax package was “88 percent” Republican policy.
“We stopped another $721 billion in taxes, in money going to this administration to just blow and spend — that was real crux of all this,” Hatch said.
“I give the president credit for being willing to go along with Republicans,” he added. “The left wasn’t happy with that. It was a big, big Republican accomplishment. That was the biggest thing in the whole lame duck.”
Lawmakers said the accomplishments of the lame duck show that the 112th Congress, when Democrats will control the Senate and Republicans the House, can be productive.
“It sets a great tone for next year. Here’s what sometimes people forget: We have our ideological differences and everyone wants to win in politics,” said Schumer. “But legislating, when you succeed in getting things done, is why were are here and I think that is true from the most conservative Republican to the most liberal Democrat.”
—Ben Geman contributed to this report.