WASHINGTON — Battle-weary members of Congress are coming soon to neighborhoods near you to press for re-election, more eager to campaign before angry constituents than compromise in Washington on tax cuts, child nutrition or a federal budget.
Majority Democrats facing tough re-election fights rebelled in both chambers Wednesday against their leaders' decisions to call off controversial votes, pass a temporary bill to keep the government running and head home.
"The Senate should be more concerned about doing what's right for the country and less concerned about campaign season," said Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo.
It was a messy end to a session fraught with partisan warfare, and it's not over. Within days of the voters' verdict, the same crew — with a few newly elected faces — will reconvene to take up a hefty list of legislation deemed toxic in the unforgiving pre-election atmosphere. Democrats will still control both chambers during the "lame duck" session.
For now, lawmakers sick of stalemate are headed home to an angry electorate.
"All 100 senators want to get out of here and get back to their states," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who is locked in a tough re-election fight against Republican Sharron Angle in Nevada.
That they preferred frustrated voters to each other says something about the heavy political lifting candidates of both parties face in the month remaining before Election Day.
An Associated Press-GfK Poll this month showed that the public is fed up with both parties. Only 38 percent approve of how congressional Democrats are handling their jobs, and just 31 percent like the way Republicans are doing theirs.
Majority Democrats facing significant losses in the wake of unpopular bills to stimulate the economy and overhaul the nation's health care laws sought to do their party no further harm on Capitol Hill.
One foot out the door, the House and Senate convened just long enough to vote on a "continuing resolution," a stopgap measure to keep the government in operating funds for the next two months and avoid a pre-election federal shutdown.
The Senate late Wednesday approved the temporary spending bill 69-30. The House joined in several hours later with a 228-194 vote, sending it to Obama's desk to be signed into law.
But they're heading home without what was supposed to be the Democrats' closing argument of the campaign: an extension of expiring Bush-era tax cuts for families making less than $250,000 and individuals making less than $200,000. Conservative and moderate Democrats joined Republicans in calling for the preservation of all the expiring cuts, even for the wealthiest Americans.
Wary of being branded tax hikers, Democrats in both houses postponed the question until a postelection session from Nov. 15. If Congress takes no action by the end of the year, Americans of every income level face significantly higher tax bills. Pelosi has said the middle-class tax cuts will be passed this year.
Republicans, meanwhile, did not want to get in the way of the Democrats' political struggles. They cast the decision to punt the tax cut debate as a vote for a tax hike, and called the Democratic majority irresponsible.
"They are turning their backs on the American people," said House Minority Leader John Boehner.
But one self-proclaimed "noncombatant" said postponing such important issues preserved the integrity of the debate and any decision that might result.