With a looming March 4 deadline before the government runs out of funding, the Senate voted 91-9 to approve a House measure providing funding for two weeks while making $4 billion in cuts with bipartisan backing.
The move averts a shutdown, but the gulf between the two parties remains wide as Republicans are calling for $61 billion in cuts that Democratic leaders and the White House claim would costs hundreds of thousands of jobs. Democrats say they support scaling back spending, but only if the reductions don’t damage the fledgling recovery or essential services.
“At some point we’re going to have to come to some finality and not just kick the can down the road two weeks at a time,” Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE) told reporters after the vote.Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) voted against the measure, joining with three Democrats and five Republicans, including fellow Tea Party freshman Mike Lee (R-UT). Paul, who has said in the past he will vote against any unbalanced budget, told TPM in an interview that he believed the Republicans had failed to propose sufficient cuts to make any difference in the nation’s long term debt.
“The reason I voted ‘no’ is basically the President’s deficit was going to be $1.65 trillion. If the Republicans get $100 billion…it will be $1.55 trillion,” he said. “I didn’t come up here to vote for $1.55 trillion as opposed to $1.65 trillion. There’s too much debt and both pathways lead to a debt crisis within five years. There’s not a statistical significance between the two.”
Asked whether he believed the GOP could come out on top in a government shutdown, Paul suggested that the government use the crisis to balance the budget immediately, an idea most mainstream economists warn would be catastrophic.
“They make it an either/or argument: they say either we pass it or this shuts down,” he said. “What about we spend what comes in? We bring in about $200 billion a month. We had a resolution yesterday that says we should pay the interest and we should pay Social Security as a priority. Every Democrat voted no on it, so y’all need to be asking Democrats, ‘Why don’t you want to protect Social Security and the interest on the debt?'”
Not every Tea Party Caucus member agreed with Paul. Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) voted for the CR, telling TPM he believed it was a step in the right direction.
“It’s just $4 billion, but in some ways its a psychological victory because instead of arguing about how much we’re going to add, for the first time we’re arguing about how much we’re going to cut,” he said.