December 17, 2013, 10:28 am
Senate advances budget deal
By Ramsey Cox and Erik Wasson
The Senate on Tuesday advanced a two-year budget deal in a 67-33 vote, setting the measure up for final passage.
Twelve Senate Republicans joined all 55 Democrats and Independents on Tuesday to advance the bipartisan budget deal approved in a landslide House vote last week. President Obama also supports the measure.
The bill sets top-line spending levels for 2014 and 2015 and reduces the sequester spending cuts by $63 billion over the next two years.
Despite opposition from conservative groups such as the Club for Growth and Heritage Action, GOP Sens. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), John Hoeven (N.D.), Lamar Alexander (Tenn.), Rob Portman (Ohio), Roy Blunt (Mo.), John McCain (Ariz.), Johnny Isakson (Ga.), Orrin Hatch (Utah), Susan Collins (Maine), Jeff Flake (Ariz.), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) and Ron Johnson (Wis.) voted to end debate on the measure.
The rest of the GOP conference, including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ken.), who faces a tough reelection race next year, voted against it.
Sens. Marco Rubio (Fla.), Ted Cruz (Texas) and Rand Paul (Ken.) all voted no.
That’s a shift from the House, where GOP leaders and a majority of Republicans backed the deal brokered by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), who actively lobbied members in both chambers to support it.
Ryan boasted that the bill would cut budget deficits by $23 billion in the long run and represented the reality that with divided government, compromise was essential. He also argued the bill would prevent a repeat of the government shutdown that hurt the GOP in the fall.
After the Senate clears the bill and it is signed by President Obama, appropriators will work on hashing out an omnibus spending bill for the rest of the fiscal year. Congress will need to approve that bill by mid-January to prevent a shutdown.
“We have not been able to do our Appropriations Committee work because we have not had a top line,” Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) said in praising the deal. “This enables us to have one for 2014.”
Conservative groups argued the bill actually increased spending over the next two years by turning off the sequester, and bickered with Boehner last week over the decision to move it.
Ryan negotiated the deal with Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray (D-Wash.), who said the bill was a first step toward rebuilding a broken budget process.
“We’ve spent far too long here scrambling to fix artificial crises instead of working together to solve the big problems we all know we need to address,” she said.
By invoking cloture, the Senate set up 30 hours of debate on the measure. That means a final vote would come Wednesday, though many expect Republicans will yield back time and allow a final vote on Tuesday.
The bill includes a House amendment to prevent a cut in physician payments under Medicare known as the “doc fix.” For three months, it would give Medicare doctors a 0.5 percent payment increase through the end of March.
It would also give Congress three months to permanently fix this problem, although Congress has been unable to do that for years. The Congressional Budget Office said the three-month bill would cost $8.7 billion.
To offset the restored sequester cuts, the bill would reduce federal employee retirement benefits by $6 billion. Military retiree benefits are also cut by $6 billion.
The bill raises airline security fees from $2.50 to $5.60 per ticket, and includes $28 billion in future cuts to Medicare fees. The deal also uses revenue from new oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico and from higher premiums on government-backed private sector pensions.
Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) said the cut to military retiree benefits was the main reason he opposed the bill.
“My objection that moves me from undecided to a no is what this budget does to current and future military retirees,” Wicker said ahead of the vote. “It breaks a promise. … We can find $6 billion elsewhere without breaking a promise.”