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Budget deal clears key test vote in the Senate

Updated at 10:50 a.m.

The budget deal brokered by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., cleared a key test vote in the Senate Tuesday morning by a margin of 67 to 33, all but ensuring it will pass the full body during a final vote that is expected Wednesday.

Although the agreement cleared the House last week, there was uncertainty until Monday that there would a sufficient number of Republican senators willing to vote for the agreement. Facing pressure from both outside conservative groups and constituents, many objected to the fact that the deal undid mandatory spending cuts with the sequester with over savings, in part by reducing the cost-of-living adjustments work working-age military retirees by 1 percent starting next December, until they reach 62 years of age. The measure will save the federal government $6 billion.

The deal also requires new federal workers to contribute more to their pensions, though that measure was not as contentious. It sets the federal budget for the next two years and will avert the threat of a government shutdown in January when the current short-term spending measure runs out.

Ultimately, 12 Republicans joined all 53 Democrats and two Independents to cut off debate and move to a final vote on the deal: Sens. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, Roy Blunt of Missouri, Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, Susan Collins of Maine, Jeff Flake and John McCain of Arizona, Orrin Hatch of Utah, John Hoeven of North Dakota, Johnny Isakson of Georgia, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, Lisa Murkowski of Arkansas and Rob Portman of Ohio.

Of those, at least a few will vote against final passage of the bill. Chambliss was undecided as of Monday, and Flake has said he is inclined to vote against it.

When the two budget committee chiefs began negotiating the deal in November, after Congress ended the 16-day federal government shutdown in October, there was little optimism they would be able to combine two budgets that display deep ideological differences, but were in reality just $91 billion apart on 2014 spending levels.

“The budget conference began at a time when distrust between Democrats and Republicans could not have been higher. We had just two months to get a deal to avoid lurching toward another crisis and most people assumed there was no way the divide could be bridged,” said Murray, the lead Democratic negotiator, said on the Senate floor ahead of the vote. “We weren’t going to spend the next eight weeks sniping at each other from across the room…we focused on what was attainable. We worked together to find common ground and we looked for ways we could compromise and take some steps towards the other.”

When the deal was announced earlier this month, it faced immediate backlash from outside conservative groups. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, would ultimately denounce those groups, saying they had “lost all credibility.”

The measure ultimately passed the House with a robust bipartisan vote of 332 to 94. Trouble loomed in the Senate, where it was unclear Democrats would be able to find the five to eight Republican votes they would need to avoid the possibility of a filibuster. Republicans in the chamber are still angry about a Democratic-approved rules change that makes it easier for the majority party to confirm the president’s executive branch appointees.

Enough Republicans said they would vote to clear the first procedural hurdle, a cloture vote that requires 60 supporters to avoid a filibuster, that by Tuesday morning it was clear the budget would pass.

It’s a small but significant step for a Congress that has faced deep gridlock, especially on budget issues, for years. But the deal leaves several things out. Emergency unemployment insurance, which runs out on Dec. 28, was not extended, though Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has said his chamber will take up the issue when they return in January. It also does nothing to raise the debt limit, which will need to be lifted sometime in the spring, and doesn’t touch tax reform, which Ryan said from the outset would have to be tackled by another bipartisan group.

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