Senate advances budget deal

The Senate on Tuesday voted to end debate on a two-year budget deal in a 67-33 vote, setting the measure up for a final vote on Wednesday.

Twelve Senate Republicans joined all 55 Democrats and independents to advance the bipartisan budget deal approved in a landslide House vote last week. President Obama also supports the measure.

With Tuesday's vote, the Senate invoked cloture on the measure, setting up a final 30 hours of debate. That means a final vote would come Wednesday at 4:40, unless senators decide to allow an earlier vote.

There had been some thought that the final vote could come as early as Tuesday, but an aide to Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ken.), speaking after Senate Republicans held a caucus meeting over lunch, said the final vote would come on Wednesday.

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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 (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 (Ky.) — 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 the president, 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.

Republicans in the Senate who backed the deal included a number of appropriators. Hoeven said his decision was born out of discussions with other Republicans on the spending panel. 

"Now we can go ahead and start prioritizing spending ... so the dollars we spend are spent more wisely," he said.

Hoeven said committee members are already hashing out the giant omnibus bill implementing the budget and could release an outline this week.

Johnson said that he had talked to Ryan in recent days about the deal but Ryan didn't have to persuade him.

"He didn't have to sell me on it. I knew what he was trying to accomplish," Johnson said. 

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 the 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.”

A notable “no” vote was Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), the ranking member on the defense appropriations committee who has been concerned about the sequester's effect on the military.

Cochran, however, has drawn a primary challenge from Tea Party-backed Chris McDaniel, who opposed the deal. 

“My expectation was that the sequester cuts built into that law would compel the administration and Congress to enact broad reforms to control growth in mandatory programs, which poses the greatest threat to the economy and our nation’s fiscal standing. That has not happened,” Cochran said in a statement on his vote.

McDaniel in a statement blasted Cochran for not working harder to defeat the deal.

 —This story was first published at 10:28 a.m. and last updated at 2:37 p.m. 

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