WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 13: U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (C) (R-TX) leaves the U.S. Senate chamber with Sen. Richard Shelby (R) (R-AL) after the Senate voted to approve a $1.1 trillion omnibus funding bill December 13, 2014 in Washington, DC. Despite Cruz's efforts to delay the vote due to objections with U.S. President Barack Obama's immigration orders, the Senate approved the funding and will avoid a government shutdown. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
Senator Barbara Mikulski, a Democrat from Maryland and chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, talks to a reporter while walking through the the U.S. Capitol basement in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Friday, Dec. 12, 2014. The Senate is poised to take up a $1.1 trillion U.S. government spending bill opposed by two senators who agree on almost nothing -- Democrat Elizabeth Warren and Republican Ted Cruz. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican from Kentucky, center, walks through the U.S. Capitol basement in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Friday, Dec. 12, 2014. The Senate is poised to take up a $1.1 trillion U.S. government spending bill opposed by two senators who agree on almost nothing -- Democrat Elizabeth Warren and Republican Ted Cruz. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
The Capitol Dome and the Capitol Christmas Tree are illuminated late Thursday evening as Congress works to pass a $1.1 trillion U.S. government-wide spending bill and avoid a government shutdown, in Washington, Thursday, Dec. 11, 2014. The Obama White House and House Republicans joined forces Thursday to pass the funding bill over clamorous protests from Democrats objecting that it would roll back bank regulations imposed in the wake of the economic near-meltdown of 2008. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 11: Members of the U.S. House of Representatives leave the Capitol after a vote on the $1.1 trillion omnibus bill December 11, 2014 in Washington, DC. The House has passed the bill by a vote of 219-206. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Representative Jim Costa, a Democrat from California, speaks to members of the media outside a House Democratic caucus meeting at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, Dec. 11, 2014. The House passed a $1.1 trillion spending bill after a day of disarray and just hours before U.S. government funding runs out. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., talks on a phone as he walks from the Senate subway on Capitol in Washington, Friday, Dec. 12, 2014. President Barack Obama on Friday urged the Senate to ratify a $1.1 trillion spending bill that has roiled his Democratic Party, judging it an imperfect measure that stems from "the divided government that the American people voted for." (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
U.S. House Speaker John Boehner, a Republican from Ohio, center, returns to his office after voting in the House Chamber at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, Dec. 11, 2014. The House passed a $1.1 trillion spending bill after a day of disarray and just hours before U.S. government funding runs out. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Provides $82 billion for food stamps as required by law; allots another $6.6 billion for a program that provides food aid to pregnant and nursing mothers and their young children. Another $21 billion goes to mandatory funding for the school lunch program and child nutrition programs. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)
The space program would receive $18 billion, a $364 million increase. Of that, $4.4 billion is provided for the new Orion space-launch system, which last week had its first test launch. (Photo by U.S. Navy via Getty Images)
Provides $8.4 billion for the FBI, a slight increase; $2.4 billion for the Drug Enforcement Administration; $1.2 billion for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; and $2.3 billion for various grants to state and local law enforcement. (Photo credit should read Joshua LOTT/AFP/Getty Images)
Provides $26 billion for Section 8 and other public housing programs for the poor. Add $10 billion for other housing programs, including help for the elderly and disabled. (Photo by Scott J. Ferrell/Congressional Quarterly/Getty Images)
Provides $21 million to continue a project restoring the iconic cast-iron Capitol Dome, which is beset by crack and leaks. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Provides $71 billion for transportation programs, including $40 billion in highway funding for states. Aid to Amtrak would be maintained at $1.4 billion. (AP Photo/Rick Callahan).
Provides $5.4 billion of President Barack Obama's $6.2 billion request to fight Ebola at home and abroad; $2.5 billion of the total would help African countries fight the disease, while $2.7 billion would go to the Health and Human Services Department, including $1.2 billion for Center for Disease Control and Prevention efforts to stop Ebola in West Africa and strengthen public health systems in at-risk countries.
Provides $73.7 billion for overseas military operations and diplomatic efforts by the State Department to combat terrorism, including $3.4 billion to continue the air campaign against Islamic State militants and $1.6 billion to train the Iraqi military. Provides $4.1 billion to train and equip Afghanistan's military.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat from California, center, walks as she leaves a House Democratic caucus meeting at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, Dec. 11, 2014. The House passed a $1.1 trillion spending bill after a day of disarray and just hours before U.S. government funding runs out. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 11: House Speaker John Boehner (C) (R-OH) walks to the House chamber for an expected vote on a $1.1 trillion government funding bill on December 11, 2014 in Washington, DC. Congress is attempting to pass a last minute funding bill for the federal government to avoid a government shutdown at midnight tonight. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
$1.013 trillion for core agency budgets for day-to-day operations, with $521 billion for defense and $492 billion for non-defense. That represents about one-third of the federal budget and is essentially a freeze at current levels. Another $64 billion is provided for overseas military operations. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Provides a base budget of $490 billion to the Pentagon, a $3.3 billion increase. Maintaining 1.3 million active-duty troops and 820,800 reserves would cost $128 billion. Another $162 billion is provided for operations and maintenance; procurement of new weapons systems, including 38 new F-35 fighters, totals $92 billion.
Keeps the Homeland Security Department funded at current levels through Feb. 27. Its budget will be revisited next year when Republicans are hoping to roll back President Barack Obama's recent moves on immigration. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
Provides $49 billion for foreign aid programs, an almost $3 billion increase. Some $6 billion would help fight HIV/AIDS overseas, while $7.2 billion would be for economic and development programs. Israel would receive $3.1 billion in military aid; Egypt would receive $1.3 billion in military aid and $150 million in economic assistance. The Millennium Challenge Corporation, which directs aid to countries demonstrating economic and social progress, would receive $900 million. AFP PHOTO/A MAJEED (Photo credit should read A Majeed/AFP/Getty Images)
Cuts the EPA budget by $60 million to $8.1 billion, or 21 percent below peak levels in 2010. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)
Cuts the IRS by $346 million to $10.9 billion. Blocks the agency from targeting tea party organizations and other advocacy groups seeking tax-exempt status based on their ideology. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio meets with reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Dec. 4, 2014. Just days before government funding expires, House Republican leaders are trying to strike a balance between the conservatives determined to stop President Barack Obamaâs immigration order and other lawmakers just as determined to avoid another politically damaging shutdown. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
FILE - In this Nov. 12, 2014 file photo, Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md. speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington. Lawmakers are finalizing a sweeping $1.1 trillion spending bill to fund the government through September and prevent a shutdown later this week. The measure is the main piece of business facing the lame-duck Congress that hopes to adjourn this week. Republicans will take over the Senate when the new Congress reconvenes next month. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, File)
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WASHINGTON (AP) - Congress cleared a $1.1 trillion spending bill for President Barack Obama's signature late Saturday night after a day of Senate intrigue capped by a failed, largely symbolic Republican challenge to the administration's new immigration policy.
The vote was 56-40 in favor of the measure, which funds nearly the entire government through the Sept. 30 end of the fiscal year. It also charts a new course for selected shaky pension plans covering more than 1 million retirees, including the possibility of benefit cuts.
The Senate passed the bill on a day Democrats launched a drive to confirm two dozen of Obama's stalled nominees to the federal bench and administration posts, before their majority expires at year's end.
Several Republicans blamed tea party-backed Texas Sen. Ted Cruz for giving the outgoing majority party an opportunity to seek approval for presidential appointees, including some that are long-stalled.
It was Cruz who pushed the Senate to cast its first vote on the administration's policy of suspending the threat of deportation for an estimated four million immigrants living in the country illegally. He lost his attempt Saturday night, 74-22, although Republican leaders have vowed to bring the issue back after the party takes control of the Senate in January.
"If you believe President Obama's amnesty is unconstitutional, vote yes. If you believe President Obama's amnesty is consistent with the Constitution, vote no," he said.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid rebutted instantly, saying Cruz was "wrong, wrong, wrong on several counts," and even Republicans who oppose Obama's policy abandoned the Texan.
The spending bill, which cleared the House on Thursday, was the main item left on Congress' year-end agenda, and exposed fissures within both political parties in both houses.
It faced opposition from Democratic liberals upset about the repeal of a banking regulation and Republican conservatives unhappy that it failed to challenge Obama's immigration moves.
While the legislation assures funding for nearly the entire government until next fall, it made an exception of the Department of Homeland Security. Money for the agency will run out on Feb. 27, when Republicans intend to try and force the president to roll back an immigration policy that removes the threat of deportation from millions of immigrants living in the United States illegally.
The legislation locks in spending levels negotiated in recent years between Republicans and Democrats, and includes a number of provisions that reflect the priorities of one party or the other, from the environment to abortion to the legalization of marijuana in the District of Columbia.
One, which drew vehement objections from the Democrats, would repeal a regulation imposed on banks in the wake of the near economic collapse of 2008. Critics called it a bailout for large financial institutions, but more than 70 House Democrats voted for it previously, and Obama made clear he didn't view it as a deal-killer.
The pension provision was a bipartisan agreement that opens the door for the first time to benefit cuts for current retirees covered by multi-employer funds in shaky financial condition.
Supporters said it would protect retirement income to the maximum extent possible without also endangering the solvency of the government fund that guarantees multi-employer plans. Critics said it posed a threat to the pension recipients, and that it could also become a precedent for other pensioners.
Immigration was at the heart of the day's events in the Senate.
Cruz seized on the issue late Friday night when he tried to challenge the bill. That led swiftly to the unraveling of an informal bipartisan agreement to give the Senate the weekend off, with a vote on final passage of the bill deferred until early this coming week.
That, in turn, led Reid, D-Nev., to call an all-day Senate session devoted almost exclusively to beginning time-consuming work on confirmation for 13 judicial appointees and 11 nominees to administration posts.
The list included Carolyn Colvin to head the Social Security Administration and Vivek Murthy as surgeon general.
As the day wore on, senators were forced to spend hour after hour on the Senate floor to cast their votes. One, Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., sat at her desk quietly for awhile reading a book.
By evening, cocktail hour in the East, strains of Christmas carols could be heard from behind the closed doors of rooms that surround the chamber.
Republicans tried to slow the nomination proceedings, but several voiced unhappiness with Cruz, a potential presidential candidate in 2016.
"I've seen this movie before, and I wouldn't pay money to see it again," said Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., recalling Cruz' leading role a year ago in events precipitating a 16-day partial government shutdown that briefly sent GOP poll ratings plummeting.
Cruz, in turn, blamed Reid, saying his "last act as majority leader is to, once again, act as an enabler" for the president by blocking a vote on Obama's policy that envisions work visas for an estimated 5 million immigrants living in the country illegally.
Reid blamed a "small group of Senate Republicans" for the turn of events.
Asked if Cruz had created an opening for the Democrats, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah said, "I wish you hadn't pointed that out."
Hatch added, "You should have an end goal in sight if you're going to do these types of things and I don't see an end goal other than irritating a lot of people."
The GOP leader, Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell, made no public comment on the events, even though Cruz suggested Friday night McConnell and House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, should not be entirely trusted to keep their pledge to challenge Obama's immigration policy.
"We will learn soon enough if those statements are genuine and sincere," Cruz said.
For more on some of the riders hidden inside the spending bill, check out the slideshow below:
Riders in the $1.1 trillion spending bill
Congress sends Obama $1.1T spending bill
Eases rules requiring more whole grains in school lunches and suspends the lower sodium standards due to take effect in 2017, while keeping other healthy-eating rules. Some school nutrition directors — and some students complaining of yucky lunches — lobbied for a break from the standards championed by first lady Michelle Obama.
(AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Rolls back safety rules that were supposed to keep sleepy truckers from causing wrecks. The government's rules had effectively shortened truckers' maximum workweek from 82 hours to 70. The trucking industry fought back.
(AP Photo/Jessica Hill)
Loosens rules imposed after the 2008 financial crisis. The change relaxes regulation of high-risk investments known as "derivatives" — rules that were imposed to reduce risk to depositors' federally insured money and prevent more taxpayer bailouts. Banks said the crackdown stifled the competitiveness of the U.S. financial industry.
Offers a mixed bag for pot smokers. The bill blocks the Justice Department from raiding medical marijuana dispensaries in states that permit them. But it also blocks federal and local spending to legalize marijuana in Washington, D.C., where voters approved recreational use in a November referendum. It's unclear what the practical effect of the spending ban will be.
Allows some pension plans to cut benefits promised to current and future retirees. The change is designed to save some financially strapped plans from going broke. It applies to multiemployer plans, which cover more than 10 million people mostly at small, unionized employers, often in the construction business.
Allows more money to flow into political parties. Under the new rules, each superrich donor could give almost $1.6 million per election cycle to political parties and their campaign committees. The comparable limit for 2014's elections was $194,400.
(Charles Ommanney via Getty Images)
THE SAGE GROUSE:
Says "no" to putting the greater sage grouse and three related birds on the endangered species list. Environmentalists say time to save them is running out as their sagebrush habitat disappears. But oil and gas companies and other businesses argued that protecting the chicken-sized birds on Western lands would hurt business and local economies.
(AP Photo/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Tom Koerner, File)
Attempts to switch off federal rules that are making it harder to find old-fashioned incandescent bulbs. The bill extends a ban on the government spending money to enforce the ongoing phase-out of incandescent bulbs. It may not have much effect, since manufacturers and stores are already well-along in the switch to spiral bulbs and other energy-saving alternatives.
(AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
HUNTING AND FISHING:
Prohibits the EPA from regulating lead in ammunition or fishing tackle. Lead in fishing sinkers and bullet fragments are being blamed for poisoning birds, such as loons and the endangered California condor. Republicans said EPA regulation would be overreach and just the threat of it was making it hard to find bullets in stores.
(AP Photo/Ben Margot, Pool, file)
Continues a ban on spending money on portraits of Cabinet secretaries, Congress members and other big shots, a Washington tradition that some lawmakers felt had gotten out of hand.
(Photo By Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call)
THE CAPITOL DOME:
Topping it all off, spends $21 million to continue restoration of the leaky, cracked U.S. Capitol dome.
(Photo by Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post via Getty Images)