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Senate poised to approve budget
« on: December 17, 2013, 09:53:30 AM »

December 17, 2013, 06:00 am
Senate poised to approve budget

By Erik Wasson

The Senate is poised to approve the two-year budget deal on Tuesday, but the tally is not expected to match the landslide in the House.

The bill, which sets top-line spending levels for 2014 and 2015, is on track to just barely get the 60 votes it needs to clear the upper chamber.

Sixty votes are required to end debate on the measure. Only a majority is needed on final passage.

As of Monday, only seven Senate Republicans have said they will vote to end debate on the measure, which is opposed by Tea Party groups, the Club for Growth and Heritage Action. Those six members are Sens. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), John McCain (Ariz.), Johnny Isakson (Ga.), Orrin Hatch (Utah), Susan Collins (Maine), Jeff Flake (Ariz.) and Ron Johnson (Wis.).

Most Senate Republicans are expected to vote against the bill, despite lobbying by Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Ohio).

Ryan was whipping the vote by contacting members over the weekend and on Monday, his office said. Boehner spoke about the budget with several members, an aide said.

GOP resistance means Democrats can’t afford many defections on their side.

If they win only six Republican votes, they can afford to lose only one of the 53 Democrats and two Independents who caucus with Senate Democrats.

As of Monday, liberal Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) had not decided how they would vote and vulnerable centrist Sens. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) and Sen. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.) had not declared their position. 

The liberals were angry because unemployment benefits were not extended as part of the deal.

The vote will probably be “a little bit closer that many of us would have liked,” Sen. Mark Warner (R-Va.), who supports the bill, acknowledged Monday on MSNBC.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) as of Monday night had not voiced a position on the bill, but is widely expected to oppose it.

McConnell is up for reelection next year and is facing a primary challenge. Conservatives argue the budget deal would increase government spending by reversing $63 billion in sequester cuts over the next two years.

White House hopefuls such as Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) have come out against the deal, making a yes vote tougher for Senate Republicans.

That’s even made it tough for allies of Boehner.

Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), a former House member who is close to the Speaker, initially voiced support for ending debate but he changed his mind Monday upon reviewing the bill.

Burr blamed an obscure provision that prevents the minority from raising a point of order against tax increases under Senate rules. 

“After reviewing in detail the significant changes made to the Senate budget rules that would allow Senate Democrats to circumvent the 60-vote threshold in order to pass a tax increase or increase spending, I have determined I cannot support cloture on the agreement,” Burr said in a statement.

Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), the Budget Committee ranking member who was frozen out of the Ryan-Murray deal-making, is leading opposition to the deal and highlighting the provision.

A number of GOP senators could support cloture if their votes are needed. As of Monday, Boehner ally Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) was still reviewing the deal, as was Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.).

These members are generally considered more centrist than Hatch, who swung his support behind the bill on Monday.

“This agreement isn’t everything I’d hoped it would be, and it isn’t what I would have written. But sometimes the answer has to be yes,” Hatch said in a press release.

Isakson announced his support Monday and cited the fact it establishes a budget for two years instead of one.

“As a longtime advocate of biennial budgeting, I believe this bipartisan agreement is a good first step toward managing government spending and the fiscal policy of our country,” he said.

The deal crafted by Ryan and Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) paves the way for Congress to craft a $1.012 trillion omnibus spending bill over Christmas break. That bill would need to be approved by Jan. 16 to prevent a government shutdown.

It also sets the stage for Congress to pass 12 individual appropriations bills to the tune of $1.014 trillion by the end of the current fiscal year on Oct. 1.

To pay for ending $45 billion in sequester cuts this year and $18 billion in 2015, the deal contains cuts to mandatory spending and some user fees.

Federal retirement benefits for future employees were cut by $6 billion and military retirees face a $6 billion cut as well.  Airline passengers will see security fees rise from $2.50 to $5.60 per ticket under the deal and $28 billion in cuts to Medicare fees were put in place for 2022 and 2023. The deal also gets revenue from new oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico and from higher premiums charged by the government arm that guarantees private sector pensions.

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