By Erik Wasson - 03/23/13 09:00 AM EDT
The Senate early Saturday passed its first budget in four years by a vote of 50 to 49.
Centrist Sens. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.), Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.), Mark Pryor (D-Ark.), Mark Begich (D-Alaska), Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) and Max Baucus (D-Mont.) were all non-committal up until the end.
Baucus, Begich, Hagan and Pryor joined the entire GOP caucus in voting against the budget resolution. Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), who was ill, missed the vote. His office said he would have been available to vote if needed.
All the Democratic senators who voted "no" are up for reelection in 2014 in states that voted for GOP nominee Mitt Romney.
Democrats had been dogged by criticism for failing to approve a budget resolution since 2009 and the vote removes that GOP talking point from the political scene.
Had the budget failed, it would have been a significant setback for the Democrats and raised questions about the party’s ability to govern.
“I am proud of the work we did in the Budget Committee and on the Senate floor to write, debate, and pass a responsible budget plan that puts economic growth and the middle class first," Murray said in a post-vote statement. “The Senate Budget takes the balanced and responsible approach to tackling our fiscal and economic challenges that the vast majority of families across the country support."
Vulnerable Senate Democrats Mary Landrieu (La.), Mark Warner (Va.) and Tim Johnson (S.D.) could pay the price in the 2014 elections for supporting the budget, however. The Democrats who voted "no" on the overall budget could be hurt in next year's campaign season by numerous controversial budget amendments and motions, including by voting against one calling for a balanced budget by 2023.
The body approved a plan that relies heavily on $975 billion in new tax revenue to stabilize the growth of the national debt within the next ten years. The budget does not balance, however, and has a deficit of $566 billion in 2023.
The Murray budget contains $975 billion in spending cuts, including $275 billion in new cuts to Medicare and Medicaid spending. But it also turns off $1.2 trillion in automatic cuts scheduled over nine years. Factoring that in, the budget does not constitute a net spending cut.
“Now that the Senate majority has written a plan we can finally begin this conversation: Do we balance the budget and grow the economy for all Americans? Or do we continue to enrich the bureaucracy at the expense of the people?” Senate Budget Committee Ranking Member Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) said after the budget passed.
"This budget is a rehash of the extreme policies that continue to hobble the economy and crush the middle class," Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said. "The only good news is that the fiscal path the Democrats laid out in their Budget Resolution won’t become law.”
Passage of the budget at approximately 5 a.m. came after a marathon “vote-a-rama” on the floor during which leaders tried to tackle 562 filed amendments.
McConnell called the session “one of the Senate's finest days in recent years.”
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Democrats argue that America cares first and foremost about economic growth, and their approach eschews austerity that could cost millions of jobs. They argue that the budget is a “balanced approach,” like the one that President Obama ran on during his reelection campaign.
Officially, the House and Senate can now conference the Murray budget with the budget of Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), which passed the House on a 221 to 207 party-line vote on Thursday.
Reconciling the budgets would bring order to the annual appropriations process for 2014 by settling the top-line spending number. As it stands, the number reflects the automatic spending cuts and would be about $966 billion, a cut from this year. A concurrent budget resolution could also become the vehicle for tax reform, since it cannot be filibustered.
In practice, the Murray and Ryan budgets are so different, there is little chance they can be reconciled. Ryan’s budget cuts spending by $5.7 trillion compared to the Congressional Budget Office baseline, an amount Democrats say would destroy government services and severely harm the poor.
Murray vowed to try to now reconcile her budget with the House-passed budget.
K Street lobbyists and political campaign consultants were chomping at the bit for results of votes on energy, gun, tax and immigration policy. The hundreds of amendments are otherwise largely symbolic, because even if the liberal Senate Democratic budget gets reconciled with the conservative House Republican budget, the overall resolution will never have the force of law.
Key amendment votes put the Senate on record—by a vote of 79 to 20--supporting the repeal of a 2.3 percent medical device tax that passed as part of Obama’s healthcare reform, and on record—by a vote of 75 to 24--allowing states to collect online sales taxes.
These strong votes could provoke actual legislation this year.
Another amendment backed construction of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline. The 62-37 vote gives supporters another argument with which to pressure the Obama administration to approve the Canada-to-Gulf pipe, which is opposed by environmentalists.
--Ramsey Cox contributed to this report.
--This report was updated at 11:36 a.m.