POLITICS: PennAve

Budget deal easily clears key procedural vote in Senate

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Politics,Congress,Susan Ferrechio,Senate,Entitlements,PennAve,Budgets and Deficits,Spending

A two-year federal budget deal easily cleared a critical procedural hurdle in the Senate Tuesday morning, setting up likely passage of legislation that will help steer Congress away from another government shutdown in 2014.

The Senate agreed to advance the deal on a 67-33 vote, a slightly slimmer margin than last week's 332-94 vote in the House. The measure will be up for a final vote Wednesday.

The budget agreement calls for spending $1.014 trillion in 2014 and restores $63 billion in sequester budget cuts over the next two years by increasing some government fees and shifting the pain elsewhere in the budget.

Most Senate Republicans voted against the measure, with some protesting a provision that would cut spending by $6 billion by reducing cost-of-living increases for military retirees.

"We can find $6 billion elsewhere," Sen Roger Wicker, R-Miss., said on the Senate floor, "without breaking a promise to people who, during a time of the global war on terror, have stood forward and donned the military uniform of the United States of America and volunteered time and again to re-up and go overseas and put themselves in harm's way."

But Democrats, who control the Senate, easily rounded up enough Republican votes to clear the 60-vote procedural hurdle, in part because the restoration of sequester budget cuts will prevent additional cuts at the Pentagon.

Democrats weren't fully satisfied with the deal, either.

The legislation does not include an extension of federal unemployment benefits, which expire on Dec. 28. Some Democrats also wanted the legislation to restore additional funding for programs like Head Start, Meals of Wheels for seniors and other domestic programs. Other Democrats oppose a provision in the bill requiring new federal workers to contribute more money toward their pensions.

Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray, D-Wash., who authored the legislation with House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said the deal is a compromise that helps end the uncertainty that would come in January when the current budget deal expires and federal funding runs out.

The two parties were locked in a battle over health care spending during the October budget fight and the government was forced to partially shutter when money ran out.

With just two months to come up with the deal, Murray and Ryan agreed to abandon any attempt to reach a "grand bargain" on taxes, spending and entitlement reform and instead focused on reducing the painful sequester cuts, which would trim about $1 trillion in from the budget over the next decade.

Murray said the two were willing to make concessions to avoid another government shutdown.

"People across the country were hoping that Democrats and Republicans could frankly get in the room and make some compromises and take a step away from the constant crises," Murray said.

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