Republicans, Conservative Groups Slam Senate's Budget Vote

Image: Republicans, Conservative Groups Slam Senate's Budget Vote

Wednesday, 18 Dec 2013 10:48 PM

By Todd Beamon

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Capitol Hill Republicans and conservative groups blasted the two-year federal budget approved by the Senate on Wednesday, charging that it would slash military retiree benefits and eliminate spending reductions targeted through sequestration.

"President [Barack] Obama, above everyone else, has the responsibility as commander-in-chief to take care of those who honorably serve our nation in uniform," said Sen. Lindsey Graham, of South Carolina, who voted against the bill. "He should not sign this severely flawed legislation into law.

"Instead, he should show leadership and send Congress back to work to fix this problem," said Graham, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas said the legislation "exemplifies what is wrong with Washington. Nothing is getting fixed. No important reforms are being addressed."

"The people get little in return except more debt, more taxes, and no change to the Obamacare disaster," Cruz said.

Tim Phillips, president of Americans for Prosperity, said the vote "replaces bipartisan spending limits with gimmicks and empty promises."

"The American people were promised reasonable spending cuts, but are now forced to accept billions more in immediate government spending based on the shaky promise that members of Congress won't once again go back on their word a decade from now."

On a 64-36 vote, the Senate passed the spending bill, announced last week by Republican Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, chairman of the House Budget Committee, and Democratic Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, who heads the House Budget Committee.

Nine Republicans — including Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, among others — voted with 53 Democrats and two independents to support the budget deal, which sets spending levels for next year and 2015.

The bill will now be sent to Obama for his signature.

Besides Graham and Cruz, other Republicans voting against the deal included Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida, Jeff Sessions of Alabama, and Rand Paul of Kentucky.

In addition, the Senate's top three Republicans — Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, Minority Whip John Cornyn of Texas, and Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, chairman of the Senate Republican Conference — all voted against the bill.

The House passed the legislation last week on a 332-94 vote. Sixty-two Republicans and 32 Democrats broke ranks to oppose the spending plan.

The deal averts a potential government shutdown on Jan. 15, cuts the budget deficit by $23 billion, and restores $63 billion in planned sequester cuts.

The increases would be offset by other spending reductions and increased fees elsewhere in the budget totaling about $85 billion over a decade, leaving enough for a largely symbolic cut of more than $20 billion in the nation's $17 trillion debt.

Tea party and conservative groups have attacked the proposed bill since it was announced, saying it would bust the spending limits set by the Budget Control Act of 2011. Those sequestration cuts took effect in March — and the Pentagon was targeted for $63 billion in reductions over the next two years.

House Speaker John Boehner, who supported the bill, attacked the groups for their opposition to the spending plan.

"This budget may be a deal for Democrats and progressive Republicans, but it's a rip-off for citizens," FreedomWorks President Matt Kibbe said Wednesday. "Congress is once again raising taxes and spending now, for reductions promised later that will never materialize.

"This kind of deal is what happens when your party leadership's fighting slogan is 'next time' rather than 'stand up.'"

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was widely slammed for blocking Republican efforts to amend the bill in order to stop the military retiree cuts.

"Majority Leader Reid rushed through this closed-door deal without a single amendment," Sessions, ranking Republican on the budget committee, who was not part of the talks on the deal, said on the Senate floor. "His conference blocked my amendment, for instance, to replace pension cuts for wounded warriors with the closure of a tax welfare loophole.

"We are left with a tax-and-spend plan that also removes a procedural tool to prevent Democrats from exceeding spending limits and raising taxes again in the future," Sessions said.

Cruz added that "the Senate majority voted to allow Sen. Reid to ignore all Republican amendments."

"Over and over, this is the roughshod style of leadership that characterizes this Senate and underscores why Washington badly needs to listen to the people," Cruz said.

Graham noted that while the budget agreement included cuts to retirement benefits for current and future military retirees, all current civilian federal employees were protected from a scheduled increase in contributions to the Federal Employees Retirement System.

Under the budget approved, the increase would apply only to new federal employees hired after Jan. 1.

The Pentagon confirmed on Tuesday that the budget deal would also cut retirement benefits of service members who retired for medical reasons, including combat injuries.

"If budgets and legislation reflect our nation's priorities, what would it say about us if we pass a bill that turns to our veterans and says: 'Thank you for deploying to war and enduring the hardships of military life, but we are going to need you to sacrifice again and give back $72,000 of the retirement you have earned?' " Graham asked.

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