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Final Senate session ends on rules battle

– The Senate brought the unceremonious first session of the 113th Congress to a close Friday, with the two sides battling over procedural rules for confirming President Barack Obama’s nominees.

In a series of largely party-line votes, the Senate approved the confirmations of a deputy to the Department of Homeland Security, a lower-level federal judge and a commissioner to the Internal Revenue Service, while setting up a final vote early next month for the confirmation of Janet Yellen to become chairman of the Federal Reserve.

“Joy to the world,” Sen. Dan. Coats, R-Ind., exclaimed as he exited the chamber after the last votes, summing up the frustration of many lawmakers in this year of legislative gridlock.

The day began on a somber note as the office of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., announced he had been hospitalized overnight for unspecified reasons, remaining there for observation. “Everything is normal,” Adam Jentleson, Reid’s spokesman, said in a statement.

With fewer than 60 laws passed in 2013 – and most of those were just extensions of existing laws or minor declarations – the year goes down as the least productive of any in modern recorded congressional history.

Hopes for bipartisan goodwill flowing from the budget deal that passed Congress in the last week evaporated in the last 72 hours of fighting about the nomination process.

“If this is ‘Kumbaya,’ I’d hate to see truly dysfunctional,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., told reporters.

The final vote, 59-34, was to cut off debate on the Yellen nomination, ending any chance of a filibuster, with five Republicans voting with the Democrats.

Her final confirmation vote will come Jan. 6, when the second session of the 113th Congress convenes.

Republicans have been protesting Reid’s move to change the confirmation rules, reducing the threshold to choke off a filibuster and move to a final simple majority vote.

The Democrats have set the new bar at a simple majority rather than the 60 or more votes previously needed.

The two sides had been threatening to stay in session overnight Thursday into Friday morning as they debated these last four nominees, but Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., reached a deal to just have all the votes Friday morn- ing.