WASHINGTON – Congress ended its business for the year Friday as the Senate moved Janet Yellen to the brink of becoming the first woman to head the Federal Reserve, voting 59-34 to end debate on her nomination.
Yellen, 67, will replace Ben Bernanke as Fed chair after he leaves office Jan. 31. She will be the first Democrat to lead the central bank since Paul Volcker left in 1987. Yellen is currently the Fed’s vice chair. The Senate plans to confirm her to the powerful post when it returns from its holiday break Jan. 6.
The Senate also approved a new boss for the troubled Internal Revenue Service but remained slowed and bitterly riven over majority Democrats’ weakening of Republicans’ power to filibuster.
Before leaving town, senators voted 59-36 to approve President Barack Obama’s nomination of John Koskinen, a retired corporate and government turnaround expert, to become IRS commissioner. The tax collection agency is still reeling from this spring’s revelations that its agents targeted tea party and other conservative groups for especially rigorous reviews when they sought tax-exempt status.
Next year’s congressional elections make major legislation unlikely. But for now, the two parties closed the book on a petulant 2013 by engaging in tit-for-tat blockades of each other that typified much of the year.
Senate Republicans derailed Democratic efforts to quickly extend expiring unemployment benefits and tax breaks for commuters who use mass transit. And the Republicans prevented Democrats from formally keeping scores of judicial, ambassadorial and agency nominations before the Senate.
“The normal way the Senate has operated for a couple of hundred years has been destroyed this year,” said Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, referring to the Democratic-imposed changes in filibusters as he blocked the nominations request. “And to ask that normalcy come about now is just beyond the pale.”
“I understand that we’re at a point of great emotions and feelings, stress in the Senate” over the filibuster changes, said No. 2 Senate Democratic leader Richard Durbin. “Unfortunately, it appears we’re going to stay in that state for at least a short period.”
The 2013 session earlier featured partisan battles that resulted in a 16-day partial government shutdown in October and the defeat of gun control legislation in the Senate.
The Senate approved a wide-ranging overhaul of immigration laws while the Republican-led House refused to take up such a sweeping bill. The two parties also bickered endlessly over Obama’s health care law.