Reid, GOP reach deal that could avoid weekend Senate votes on budget

The Senate has reached a deal that will allow a vote on a measure to keep the government funded and possibly prevent a weekend of work on the budget.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) announced the deal on amendments to the government-funding measure on Wednesday afternoon, ending a stalemate in the Senate that had thrown off the upper chamber’s schedule. Agreement on moving to the bill had been held up by Sens. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) and Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) but they backed down on giving consent to move forward.

Votes on several amendments will start at 2:15 p.m. Wednesday, and the Senate is expected to approve the funding measure that afternoon. The Senate will then immediately begin considering the Senate Democratic budget.

A “vote-a-rama” featuring dozens of amendments is expected on the budget, meaning delaying a final vote on the funding measure could have left the Senate scheduled to vote on the budget Saturday or even Sunday. The Senate is scheduled to begin a recess after it concludes work on Friday. 

The deal announced Wednesday doesn't eliminate the possibility of weekend votes, but it does make it more likely that the Senate could complete work on the budget sometime on Friday. The Senate had been set to vote on the funding measure as late as Thursday afternoon. With the deal, a final vote will occur Wednesday afternoon.

Reid had warned senators that they would stay in Washington until they finished the budget. Republicans had been holding up a vote on the funding measure — and thus work on the budget — to win consideration of certain amendments.

The majority leader frequently threatens to keep the Senate in session on the weekend, but rarely follows through. However, the threats this week were seen as realistic given his determination to not go into the recess without a budget. House Republicans are set to approve their budget Thursday, and the Senate Democratic budget, if approved, would be the first one moved by Senate Democrats in four years. 

Under the deal, the Senate will consider several amendments to the $984-billion funding measure, which lasts through the fiscal year at the end of September. All of the amendments will be subject to a 60-vote threshold.

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Several amendments to be considered are sponsored by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), and Sens. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.); Mark Pryor (D-Ark.); Roy Blunt (R-Mo.); Kay Hagan (D-N.C.) and James Inhofe (R-Okla.) will also offer measures.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) and ranking member Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) negotiated the bill, which sets the same spending levels as a government funding measure approved by the House earlier this month.

But the Senate bill adds three full appropriations measures to the House version. The House bill, H.R. 933, funded Defense; Military Construction and Veterans Affairs programs, while the Senate version adds appropriations for Agriculture; Homeland Security; and the Commerce, Justice and Science funds.

Once the Senate finishes work on the continuing resolution, it will be sent back to the House. If the House and Senate don’t agree on the bill by March 27, the government would run out of funding.

Toomey’s amendment would move $60 million for military investments in biofuels to operations and maintenance. He said the funds would be better used to offset sequestration cuts to military operations than for energy projects.

The Blunt-Pryor amendment would close a funding gap for the Food Safety and Inspection Service and ensure that food inspectors are not furloughed due to the sequestration cuts that went into effect March 1.

Inhofe and Hagan’s amendment would stop the termination of tuition assistance for the Armed Services under sequestration and prevent these funds from being decreased below the amount provided in the measure.

Most of Coburn’s amendments would move funds so that agencies have more flexibility on sequester cuts. Coburn’s amendment 93 would restore funding for tours and public access to the White House and other national parks by shifting money from a Heritage Area account the administration has targeted for spending reductions. 

Moran had wanted a vote on an amendment that would shift $50 million in funds within the Federal Aviation Administration budget to keep air traffic control towers open, including in his state. Ayotte wanted to cancel missile defense funding and shift money into the Pentagon's operations account.

Those amendments were not allowed under the deal.

"Clearly, the Senate has failed the test of good will," a frustrated Moran said on the Senate floor.

This story was updated at 2:10 p.m.

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