Budget deal expected to pass Senate with bipartisan support

The budget deal is expected to pass the Senate with bipartisan support later Wednesday.

On Tuesday, 12 GOP senators joined Democrats in voting to end debate on the deal negotiated by Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and her House counterpart Paul Ryan (R-Wis.).

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.

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Of the 12 Republicans who voted for cloture, Sens. John McCain (Ariz.), Johnny Isakson (Ga.), Rob Portman (Ohio) and Saxby Chambliss (Ga.) said on the Senate floor that they would support final passage — which is expected after 4:30 p.m. Wednesday.

“To somehow vote against it without an alternative to keep the government from shutting down, I think lacks some intellectual integrity,” McCain said Tuesday. “If you got a better idea bring it up. Let’s consider it and vote … but right now the only alternative is a government shutdown.”

Republicans who oppose the bill insisted on using all 30 hours of post-cloture debate despite the inevitability that the measure will pass. The House passed the deal on a 332-94 vote last week.

On Tuesday, Budget Committee ranking member Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) failed to stop Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) from blocking attempts to amend the deal. Sessions wanted to offer an amendment that would have replaced a $6 billion cut to military retirees benefits, but Democrats stood united — with the exception of Sen. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.) — in rejecting Sessions’ motion to table Reid’s amendments.

“The legislation before us today now is brought forward in a way that will not allow any amendments,” Sessions said. “Nobody can get an amendment to fix this part of the legislation that plainly needs fixing.”

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.

Several Republican senators were outspoken that the main reason for their opposition to the deal stemmed from the cuts to military benefits.

“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.”

But Murray said that part of the bill doesn’t go into effect for two years, giving lawmakers plenty of time to replace the cut with another $6 billion in savings.

President Obama has said he supports the deal and is expected to sign it into law after the Senate passes it. Once it becomes law the Appropriations Committees can begin work on an omnibus spending bill, which needs to be approved by mid-January to prevent another government shutdown.

The Senate is then expected to work on the National Defense Authorization Act, which sets Pentagon spending at nearly $600 billion. The House also passed that bipartisan bill before leaving this week for the holiday.