Senate Minority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., left, speaks to members of the media as Senate Minority Whip Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, looks on Dec. 17 after the weekly Senate Republican Policy Committee luncheon in Washington. (Alex Wong / Getty Images)
WASHINGTON — The Senate on Tuesday cleared a key procedural hurdle for final passage of a two-year, bipartisan budget deal before the end of the week.
By a vote of 67-33, Senate Democrats easily surpassed the 60-vote threshold required to end debate and move toward approving the legislation, which is expected by Wednesday.
“It is a step in the right direction and a dramatic improvement over the status quo,” said Senate Budget Chairwoman Patty Murray, D-Wash., who crafted the agreement with House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis.
“I’m hopeful this deal can be just the first of many bipartisan deals, that it can rebuild some of the trust and bring Democrats and Republicans together and demonstrate that government can work for the people we all represent.”
Twelve Republicans voted to move forward on the budget deal, including Sens. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, Roy Blunt of Missouri, Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, Susan Collins of Maine, Jeff Flake of Arizona, Orrin Hatch of Utah, John Hoeven of North Dakota, Johnny Isakson of Georgia, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, John McCain of Arizona, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, and Rob Portman of Ohio.
All Democrats supported the deal.
“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 Monday in a statement announcing his support.
Several leading Republicans opposed the deal, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn of Texas. Both leaders are facing GOP primary challenges in the 2014 midterm elections, and outside conservative activists and their primary challengers oppose the budget compromise. An additional four GOP senators also facing primary challenges opposed the deal, including Sens. Thad Cochran of Mississippi, Mike Enzi of Wyoming, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, and Pat Roberts of Kansas.
Alexander is the only GOP senator facing a primary threat to support the deal, but he said Tuesday he will oppose the bill on final passage. “Although I can’t support it, I appreciate the efforts of Rep. Ryan and Sen. Murray to bring certainty to the budget process, which is why I voted earlier today to allow a Senate vote on their agreement, which had passed the House with two-to-one Republican support,” he said.
Democrats will only need 51 votes to approve the deal in the final vote.
The bill’s framework would set top-line federal spending levels for the next two fiscal years, partially ease across-the-board cuts known as sequestration and offer some modest deficit reduction.
It overwhelmingly passed the Republican-controlled House of Representatives last week before the chamber adjourned for the holidays. President Obama has said he will sign it when it reaches his desk.
The Senate is working to complete its legislative agenda for the year by the end of the week, which includes a defense bill and a number of executive branch nominations.
Davis writes for USA Today.