Forecast for Passing Two-Year Budget Deal is Sunny in the Senate

By Michael Catalini and Sarah Mimms

December 16, 2013

With the budget drama heading into its final act in the Senate on Tuesday, tensions surrounding the fate of the two-year deal are dissipating, with Republicans signaling they will not block the measure.

Leery of saying how they would vote before the House overwhelmingly approved the deal on Thursday, Senate Republicans opened up on Friday. GOP Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Jeff Flake and John McCain of Arizona said they would vote for cloture, and others indicated they're considering it.

Despite the reluctance of some members to say how they would vote, the mood among senators on Friday bordered on upbeat.

"I think it represents a sincere effort to compromise, move us forward, and end this lurching from crisis to crisis that has been so damaging to the economy and to people's confidence in government," said Collins, who is also likely to vote yes on the legislation.

Even Republicans who oppose the deal brokered by Rep. Paul Ryan and Sen. Patty Murray predict the compromise budget would make appropriating easier.

"We'll work with whatever the number is," said Senate Appropriations Committee ranking member Richard Shelby, R-Ala. "I've always said if we had a number, we ought to go by the number, and if we get the number -- and I think we will, who knows? -- I believe the appropriations process will start working."

While Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., opposes the budget because it exceeds the caps set by the Budget Control Act -- the best vote he ever took in the Senate, he said -- he's considering voting for cloture and suggested he's fed up with the importance with which cloture votes are now treated. Outside groups, particularly conservative organizations, have begun to score even the procedural votes.

"Always the deciding factor was how you voted on the piece of legislation, not whether you voted to end debate or not end debate," Corker said. "So I'm thinking: Is it time to end this debate on this issue?"

Corker said he thinks the Senate will move beyond the procedural hurdle, which is expected to come up Tuesday.

McCain, as well as a number of other Republicans, reasoned that defeating the legislation would be tantamount to paving the way for another shutdown, which proved politically disastrous for the GOP in October.

"I'm not OK with it," he said. "But I think it's better than shutting down the government."

Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., who faces a primary challenge from conservative state Sen. Chris McDaniel next year, said he is still weighing his options on both the cloture vote and the underlying bill. Cochran brushed off questions about whether his challenge from McDaniel, who has the support of several conservative outside groups, is a factor in his decision-making.

Sen. Mike Johanns of Nebraska, who is retiring at the end of next year, is considering his options, but said that he is considering voting for cloture while opposing the overall bill. "I'm very concerned about the package, but I can also see the merits of a two-year deal," he said Friday. "So I want the weekend to think about it and I'll make a decision."

But Johanns and several other Republican senators predicted that the bill will pass easily, arguing that lawmakers are wary of entering the holidays with the specter of another government shutdown in January hanging over their heads.

"It's not sufficient to say we'll let the government shut down. We've seen how that works. People hate that.… And so I think at the end of the day if you believe in my crystal ball, this gets the votes," Johanns said.

The bill looks to have the backing of the vast majority of Democrats as well. Even Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., who frequently breaks with his party, was vocal in his support for the deal Friday, shouting to crowded reporters: "I'm all for it! I'm all for it!"

Red-state Democrats who are up for reelection next year also seem largely in favor of the bill. Sens. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and Mark Begich of Alaska said Friday that they would support the measure. But Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark. -- likely the most vulnerable senator on the 2014 electoral map -- is still weighing his options. His Club for Growth-backed challenger, GOP Rep. Tom Cotton, voted against the bill Thursday.


By Michael Catalini and Sarah Mimms

December 16, 2013

http://www.govexec.com/oversight/2013/12/forecast-passing-two-year-budget-deal-sunny-senate/75538/