Senate Showdown Looms as GOP Split Over Budget Deal

Friday, 13 Dec 2013 10:49 AM

By Drew MacKenzie

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The controversial budget compromise deal is facing a tough battle on the Senate floor next week — with leading Republicans vowing to oppose it as jittery Democrats sweat it out while desperately hoping that a handful of Republicans will join them in voting in favor.

The bill was supported by a majority of Republicans in the House on Thursday, with House Speaker John Boehner triumphantly leading the charge against "misleading" tea party conservatives who campaigned to have it thrown out.

But Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Republican from Kentucky, is taking an opposite view and has already announced he plans to reject the measure.

Although Democrats will need at least five GOP votes to pass the legislation in the Senate, no Republicans have yet announced that they planned to break ranks from McConnell to support the bill. And added to Democratic woes is the fact that some of the party's own senators may even vote with Republicans against it.

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The only chance of a clear passage may lie in the growing rift between the GOP establishment against the tea party right-wingers like Sen. Ted Cruz, who bitterly oppose the legislation based on the fact that it busts the spending caps and could lead to an even deeper debt crisis down the road.

Democrats are pinning their hopes on a handful of centrist Republicans such as John McCain of Arizona, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, Orrin Hatch of Utah, and Susan Collins of Maine, but their votes are far from certain. McCain said he initially planned to support the bill but is now not so certain due to concerns over the proposed pension cuts for working-age military retirees.

South Carolina's Lindsey Graham and New Hampshire's Kelly Ayotte, who often vote in tandem with McCain, have already said they oppose the deal.

Murkowski also said she was worried about the military pensions but has not announced which way she intends to vote. Alexander and Hatch have also indicated they have not yet decided on the measure.

Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, the Majority Whip in the Senate, admitted on Thursdayy that the Democrats need GOP votes to pass the bill, which is expected to go to a vote either Monday or Tuesday.

And in light of the fact that 32 Democrats voted against the measure in the House it is likely that there could be some defectors in the Senate as well, especially those who are facing tough elections in the midterms next year.

"We need Republican votes to pass the budget agreement, period," Durbin said. "We need at least five, and I'm hoping that there'll be more than that."

He said he is hoping Republicans are holding back on announcing they will support the deal "for any number of reasons."

But the second-ranking Democrat's hopes may be dashed as it appears as though Republicans will be coming out in force against the bill.

Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, the ranking GOP member of Senate Budget Committee, said he planned to filibuster the bipartisan bill that was forged by House Budget Committee chairman Rep. Paul Ryan and Senate Budget Committee chairwoman Sen. Patty Murray. The House passed the bill on Thursday.

In this case, it will be a procedural filibuster, requiring Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to obtain 60 votes at least twice to pass the bill. "They'll need 60 votes on cloture and 60 votes on the budget point of order," Sessions said, according to The Hill.

And the Democrats could face defectors including liberals like Tom Harkin of Iowa or independent Bernie Sanders of Vermont who may vote against the deal because it does not include emergency unemployment benefits.

Cruz heavily criticized the bill, saying "it moves in the wrong direction" and that it funds President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act.

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The Texan, whose battle to defund Obamacare resulted in a 16-day government shutdown in October, said in a statement, "It spends more, taxes more, and allows continued funding for Obamacare. I cannot support it."

"This proposal undoes the sequester's modest reforms and pushes us two steps back, deeper into debt," he added. "Supporters of this plan are asking for more spending now in exchange for minor changes that may possibly reduce spending later. That may be a fine deal for Washington, but it's not for the American people."

The top three ranking Republicans are all expected to vote against the budget deal. McConnell has openly opposed the deal while Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn and GOP conference chairman John Thune have inferred they will also reject it.

Sens. Pat Roberts of Kansas, Marco Rubio of Florida, Rand Paul of Kentucky, Mike Lee of Utah, and Jeff Flake of Arizona also plan to attempt to veto the proposal, says Breitbart.

Other GOP senators, including Bob Corker of Tennessee and Richard Shelby of Alabama, also have said they would not support the bill, according to Roll Call.

Wyoming's John Barrasso, the Senate's No. 4 Republican, said he doesn't support the bill "at first blush."

And Republican Sen. Mike Johanns of Nebraska is also unhappy with the legislation because the budget will partially be paid for by an increase in air travel fees. "If you're really going to deal with spending, you have to deal with the whole budget," he said.

"Charging somebody more for their airplane ticket is not really a way to solve the budget crisis for the federal government," Johanns said.

Michael Catalini, of the conservative National Journal, said the biggest problem Republicans have with the Ryan-Murray plan is that it raises discretionary spending beyond the $967 billion level mandated by the 2011 Budget Control Act, to $1.012 trillion for fiscal 2014.

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