Durbin: We need GOP votes for deal

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The Senate Democratic leadership is not sure there are enough votes to pass a year-end budget deal next week.

Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) cautioned Thursday that Democrats are not assured of winning over enough Republican votes to pass a budget deal to avoid a government shutdown. 

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The top three Senate Republican leaders have signaled they will vote against the deal, which would reduce the automatic cuts known as sequestration by $63 billion.

Senior GOP lawmakers and aides say the agreement negotiated between Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) busts budget caps set in 2011.

“We need Republican votes to pass the budget agreement. Period. We need at least five,” said Durbin, the second-ranking Senate Democratic leader.

“I’m not sure of anything,” he added. “There are not five Republicans who have announced they’re for it.

The bill is expected to pass the House on Thursday despite the strong opposition of conservative groups, which have skewered it for lifting budget caps for 2014 and 2015 in exchange for deficit-reducing actions spread over the next decade.

A strong House vote could spur Republican senators to embrace the deal. One GOP aide said that some lawmakers were holding off on stating their positions as a courtesy to Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio).

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), a centrist who often works with Democrats, said she was undecided.

“There are a whole bunch of things,” Murkowski said, citing her concerns. “You got federal employees in there. You got military retirement pay. You got [the Strategic Petroleum Reserve].”

The Murray-Ryan deal would rescind available funds in the Strategic Petroleum Reserve and repeal the federal government’s ability to accept oil through the royalty-in-kind program.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who initially signaled he would vote for the legislation, said Thursday morning he is now undecided because of proposed pension cuts for working-age military retirees.

“I’m having our folks look at it right so you’ll have to put me down as undecided because I’m very concerned about that,” he said.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who is up for reelection next year and worked with McCain to find ways to reduce cuts slated for military programs, said he would vote "no" because of the military retiree issue.

Democratic leaders will need more than five GOP votes if they suffer defections within their own caucus. Liberal Sens. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Bernie Sanders (Vt.), an independent who caucuses with Democrats, say they are undecided because the agreement does not include emergency unemployment benefits.

Sen. Lamar Alexander (Tenn.) and Orrin Hatch (Utah), two other Republicans with pragmatic streaks, also said they are undecided about how to vote.

Sen. Jeff Sessions (Ala.), the ranking Republican on the Senate Budget Committee, who plans to vote against the agreement, said Republicans will wage a filibuster against it.

He said the GOP would force Democrats to secure 60 votes at least twice to waive budgetary objections and end dilatory debate.

“They’ll need 60 votes on cloture and 60 votes on the budget point of order,” Sessions said.

But Republicans do not expect to wage a lengthy talking filibuster, such as Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) did earlier this year to protest the Obama administration’s drone policy.

“Really, the purpose of extending debate on an issue is so that people will become more aware and calling attention to it,” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said. “I think there will be awareness of this issue and as a result it probably won’t be necessary to do something like that.”

Sens. Ted Cruz (Texas) and Mike Lee (Utah), two Tea-Party Republicans who led the fight against the government funding measure in October, declined to say if they use a lengthy floor debate to slow Murray-Ryan pact.

Cruz issued a critical statement Thursday afternoon.

“The new budget deal moves in the wrong direction: it spends more, taxes more, and allows continued funding for ObamaCare. I cannot support it,” he said.