Senate poised to move forward with budget deal

The budget deal passed the House with a solid bipartisan majority, but faces a more uncertain future in the House.

The Senate appears poised to clear a key procedural hurdle Tuesday that will pave the way for passage of a budget deal brokered by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and send the legislation to the president’s desk.

The House passed the agreement last week, which sets spending levels for the next two years and replaces $63 billion in cuts mandated by the sequester with other spending cuts. It will avert the threat of a government shutdown in mid-January, when the temporary spending bill passed by Congress in October runs out.

Though a substantial bipartisan majority supported the deal in the House, tensions have run high in the Senate in the wake of a rules change approved by Democrats that makes it easier for the majority party to confirm the president’s nominees. Combined with political pressure from outside conservative groups not to back the deal, its fate seemed uncertain even in the Democrat-controlled Senate, where 60 votes will be needed to overcome the possibility of a filibuster.

That is looking less likely to happen. A handful of Republican lawmakers announced that they would vote yes on the procedural measure, known as a cloture vote, to move forward with debate on the legislation even if they don’t intend to support the final agreement.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, joined a small number of Republican colleagues including Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Susan Collins, R-Maine, in saying he would vote both to advance the bill to a final vote and to pass it and send it to President Obama’s desk.

“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." Hatch said in a statement Monday. "The reality is that Republicans only control one-half of one-third of government. Ultimately, this agreement upholds the principles conservatives stand for and, with Democrats controlling the White House and the Senate, it is the best we could hope for.” 

Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., also said he would support both the cloture vote and final passage.

The threshold will be lower – just 50 votes are necessary -- when the bill comes up for a final vote, likely sometime on Wednesday. Another handful of Republicans, including Sens. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., and Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., are going to vote yes on cloture but haven’t decided whether they will ultimately support the bill. 

In an appearance on CBS News' “Face the Nation” Sunday, Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., the number two Democrat in the Senate, predicted Democrats would need “about eight” Republicans to vote with them in favor of the deal. Because Democrats control 55 votes in the Senate (that includes two independents who usually vote with them), that meant he was likely counting on a few Democrats to vote “no.” But two of the Democrats in the toughest re-election races next year, Sen. Kay Hagan of North Carolina and Mark Pryor of Arkansas, have said they’ll vote to advance the budget deal Tuesday. Pryor said he will vote “yes” on final passage; Hagan is still undecided.

Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., went in the opposite direction: he initially planned to support the procedural motion, but indicated Monday he would no longer do so, according to the Wall Street Journal.

"While I applaud Chairman Ryan's efforts to prevent another government shutdown, I have decided upon further review to oppose allowing this bill to move forward," he said.

Though the deal is being hailed as a significant, if small step for a Congress otherwise paralyzed by gridlock in recent years, it still leaves the door open for the possibility of contentious battles ahead.  First up will be the need to raise the debt limit sometime in 2014.

“We as a caucus, along with our Senate counterparts, are going to meet and discuss what it is we want to get out of the debt limit. We don't want nothing out of this debt limit,” Ryan said on "Fox News Sunday," referring to the fact that Republicans have used the debt limit as leverage to extract spending cuts in the past.

But that is not a fight the White House is expecting, spokesman Jay Carney told reporters Monday. He said the president still believes he should not negotiate over the debt ceiling.

“We have not and will not change our position, nor do we expect Republicans to travel down that road again, because, one, so many of them have said they won't, including those who endorsed the approach in October,” Carney said. “Two, because that approach and pursuit was so disastrous for them and for the economy and for the middle class.”

  • Rebecca Kaplan

    Rebecca Kaplan is a political reporter for