"It would be one thing if you have a chance to pass something, then by all means have a vote," Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., said Wednesday. "But it was pretty clear that it was going to be mutually assured destruction."
Republicans also denounced Democrats for delaying the ethics trials of Reps. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., and Maxine Waters, D-Calif., until after the elections. Both lawmakers had said they wanted trials as soon as possible.
In the waning hours before adjournment, Democrats moved what smaller legislation they could. The end-of session agenda included:
—A legislative blueprint for NASA's future that would extend the life of the space shuttle program for a year while backing Obama's intent to use commercial carriers to carry humans into space. Obama will sign the measure, which passed the House on a 304-118 vote.
—The first intelligence authorization bill since 2004, with compromise language on demands by Congress for greater access to top secret intelligence. The most secret briefings will still only be provided to top congressional leaders, but members of the intelligence panels will receive a general description of the programs. The House cleared the measure for Obama.
—Legislation approved by the House, 348-79, that would allow the U.S. to seek trade sanctions against China and other nations for manipulating their currency to gain trade advantages. Quickly criticized by China, its prospects are unclear in the Senate.
—A House-passed measure, already approved by the Senate, to rename a mountain in Alaska after the late Sen. Ted Stevens, who died in a plane crash in August. South Hunter Peak, a mountain located in Denali National Park and Preserve just south of Mount McKinley, will become Stevens Peak.
A House measure to provide free health care and additional compensation to World Trade Center workers sickened in the towers' crumbled ruins was sure to stall in the Senate.
The stopgap spending measure was kept clean of a host of add-ons sought by the Obama administration, including money for "Race to the Top" grants to better-performing schools and more than $4 billion to finance settlements of long-standing lawsuits by black farmers and American Indians against the government.
A single GOP senator, Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, was blocking the bill for black farmers and Indians and negotiations were continuing. Prospects were being helped by the addition of several measures — favored by western Republicans — to resolve Indian water claims.
The stopgap bill is a reminder of the dismal performance by Congress in doing its most basic job — passing an annual budget and the spending bills for agency operations.
Only two of a dozen annual appropriations bills have passed the House this year and none has passed the Senate as Democratic leaders have opted against lengthy floor debates and politically difficult votes on spending.