Budget Deal Advances Procedural Hurdle in the Senate

December 18, 2013

pic-uscapitol-flagOn Tuesday, the Senate voted 67-33 to invoke cloture and end debate on a bipartisan two-year budget deal, offered as an amendment to the fiscal 2014 continuing resolution (H.J.Res. 59). Final passage—which only requires a simple majority—is expected sometime Wednesday at the latest after a maximum 30 hours of debate, unless Senate Republicans yield back the time.

Twelve Senate Republicans broke rank and sided with Democrats to end debate on the budget measure: Lamar Alexander (Tennessee), Roy Blunt (Missouri), Saxby Chambliss (Georgia), Susan Collins (Maine), Jeff Flake (Arizona), Orrin Hatch (Utah), John Hoeven (North Dakota), Johnny Isakson (Georgia), Ron Johnson (Wisconsin), John McCain (Arizona), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), and Rob Portman (Ohio).

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) along with several other Republicans facing tough primary challenges in 2014—Minority Whip John Cornyn (Texas), Mike Enzi (Wyo.) and Pat Roberts (Kansas)—all rejected the budget agreement procedural vote. Many other Republicans voted against cloture because it would exceed sequester top-line spending caps of $967 billion for fiscal year 2014.

The deal negotiated by Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) would modify sequester caps on discretionary spending over the next two years. It would set top-line spending for fiscal year 2014 at $1.012 trillion and $1.014 in fiscal year 2015.

The deal would raise $85 billion over the next decade by increasing pension contributions for newly hired federal workers, decreasing cost of living adjustments for military personnel and raising air passenger travel fees. Roughly $62 billion of the revenue would go toward replacing part of sequestration over the next two years. The remaining $23 billion would go toward deficit reduction.

Also included in the measure is a three-month extension of the “doc-fix” to prevent cuts in Medicare payments to doctors. However, the bill does not extend unemployment benefits that expire at the end of the month or address the debt ceiling, which will likely have to be raised sometime next spring.

The House cleared the legislation overwhelmingly last week by a vote of 332-94. It garnered support of 169 Republicans and 163 Democrats. Sixty-two Republicans voted no, while 32 Democrats opposed it.

The budget vote in the Senate is just one accomplishment in a list of legislative activity the Senate still needs to accomplish before the end of the year, including the defense authorization bill and several nominations.