Senate Leans Toward Passage Of U.S. Budget Deal
Washington (AFP) – A bipartisan U.S. budget deal looked increasingly likely to survive a crucial test vote Tuesday as lawmakers aim to end a miserably unproductive legislative year on a positive note.
Members of both parties acknowledge the vote in the Senate will be close, but on Monday it appeared there would be enough Republicans joining rival Democrats to head off attempts to block the measure, which has already passed the House of Representatives.
“It’s a pretty safe bet” that the budget accord will pass Tuesday’s procedural hurdle and be approved this week, the Senate’s number three Democrat Chuck Schumer told AFP late Monday.
The procedural vote is scheduled for 10:00 am.
The deal, struck by Senate Democrat Patty Murray and House Republican Paul Ryan, lays out spending caps for 2014 and 2015 and dramatically reduces the prospects of another government shutdown next year like the one that hog-tied Washington in October.
It creates $85 billion in savings and repeals some $63 billion in crippling automatic spending cuts — known in Washington as sequestration — that take effect January 1 unless Congress acts.
Some Senate conservatives, including potential 2016 presidential candidate Marco Rubio, stress the bill does not go far enough to reduce spending.
But at least eight Senate Republicans have signaled they are either backing the deal or will not act to block it, arguing that its two-year stability was crucial for pulling Washington out of a cycle of constant budget brawls.
“This agreement isn’t everything I’d hoped it would be, and it isn’t what I would have written. But sometimes the answer has to be yes,” Republican Senator Orrin Hatch said Monday.
Senators John McCain and Ron Johnson also expressed support, while Jeff Flake, Susan Collins and Richard Burr have reportedly signaled they will not attempt to block the bill, which needs 60 votes Tuesday to advance. Democrats control 55 of the Senate’s 100 seats.
The top congressional Republican, House Speaker John Boehner, supports the deal, and he is apparently leaning on Senate Republicans to get behind the agreement. An aide told AFP that “the budget deal came up” in Boehner’s weekend discussions with some Senate Republicans.
Republican Senator Johnny Isakson has thrown his support behind the budget bill, his spokeswoman confirmed late Monday.
And fellow Republican Senator Saxby Chambliss is also committed to not blocking the bill (voting for cloture), although he remained undecided about whether to support the final legislation, according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution.
The White House was also banking on Republicans being keen to avoid a repeat of October’s disastrous government shutdown, for which more Americans blame the Republican Party, according to public polls.
“We do not expect Republicans to walk that path again,” White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters. “We hope and expect the Senate to act” on the budget deal.
But the bill has angered some liberal Democrats for not extending emergency unemployment insurance, although it remained unclear if they would buck their party and President Barack Obama and vote against the measure.
Some 1.3 million Americans could see those benefits expire on December 28, although the Senate’s Democratic leadership has expressed a desire to extend the insurance retroactively in the new year.
The Senate kicked off its final week of 2013 on Monday with Majority Leader Harry Reid saying he was “optimistic” that the chamber could accomplish its goals before the year-end break.
Those include passage of a crucial defense-spending measure and the confirmation of key executive nominees such as Janet Yellen, Obama’s pick to be the next head of the Federal Reserve.
“Christmas is one week from Wednesday. We have a lot to do,” Reid warned
“Without collaboration we’ll face another daunting vote schedule.”
The Senate endured a brutal schedule last week when Reid pushed through votes on several nominees.
Republicans, furious over Reid’s controversial move in November to change the rules to allow most presidential nominees to advance with merely a simple majority, did not budge, forcing the Senate to remain in session for more than 48 continuous hours.
Reid has set up 10 more votes for Obama nominees this week, including Yellen’s, and it remained to be seen whether Republicans will yield debate time in order to close up for the year this week.
This year marks the first time since 1986 that a budget deal has been struck when the House and Senate are controlled by different parties.
But this year’s lawmakers already have a miserable reputation as a “Do-nothing Congress,” sealed by the legislature’s inability to come together to pass major bills on time.