Stop The Madness! Senate Poised To Advance Budget Bill

The Democratic-led Senate appears to have just about enough votes to advance bipartisan, House-passed legislation on Tuesday that sets spending levels and ends the practice of funding the federal government in short-term measures — at least for two years.

Sixty senators are required on the motion to proceed to the bill. It’s expected to be a close vote but Democratic leaders are confident it’ll succeed, barring an unexpected twist of fate. Leadership aides say the 55-member Democratic caucus will unanimously support the procedural motion and at least six Republicans are on the record in its favor.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is seen as wanting the bill to pass, if largely to avoid another government shutdown. But he isn’t likely to cast his vote for it because he is up for re-election in 2014 and fending off a conservative primary challenger, Matt Bevin. But, notably, there is no indication that he is pushing GOP members to block it.

Once the bill clears the 60-vote barrier, known as “cloture,” it’ll be on a glide-path to passage. What’s unclear is whether Republicans will use their prerogatives to demand a full debate or whether they’ll acquiesce to wrapping it up quickly. Upon passage, the bill will go to President Barack Obama’s desk for his signature, and then Congress will have until Jan. 15 to flesh out spending bills in order to keep the government running and avert a shutdown.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) on Monday threatened to keep the Senate working through Christmas Eve if Republicans objected to swift approval of the budget bill along with the defense authorization act and a slew of presidential nominees. He said last Friday it would be political “suicide” for Republicans to block the budget bill.

Republican Sens. Orrin Hatch (UT), Johnny Isakson (GA) and Ron Johnson (WI) all came out for the budget bill on Monday, joining GOP Sens. John McCain (AZ), Jeff Flake (AZ) and Susan Collins (ME), who said earlier they’ll at least vote for procedural motions on it.

“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 in a statement. “Ultimately, this agreement upholds the principles conservatives stand for and, with Democrats controlling the White House and the Senate, it is the best we could hope for.”

In an unusual move, Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC), who initially indicated support for cloture on the bill, flipped his position to “no” on Monday afternoon. “While I applaud Chairman Ryan’s efforts to prevent another government shutdown, I have decided upon further review to oppose allowing this bill to move forward,” he said.

Six Republicans and 55 Democrats adds up to 61 votes. It suggests Democrats may have little room for defections within their ranks.

Conservative activists oppose the budget deal, brokered by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), because it boosts discretionary spending in 2014 from $967 billion established under current law to $1.012 billion. Outside right-wing lobbying groups also complained that it raises government fees, including for airline tickets, to help offset the spending increase. That didn’t stop the bill from passing with overwhelming bipartisan support in the House. Republican senators are more sour on the deal because their caucus didn’t have much of a say in the Ryan-Murray negotiations.