WASHINGTON: The Senate appears poised to pass and send to President Barack Obama as early as today a two-year budget agreement, as lawmakers are eager to head home and show gridlock-weary constituents Congress can get something done.
Congress’ average 2013 Gallup poll approval rating is 14 percent, its lowest level in the survey’s 39 years. Senators and representatives realize the public is tired of the bickering and the gridlock.
That’s a big reason the House of Representatives last week passed the budget deal in a bipartisan vote. There were growing signs the Senate will follow suit in a vote today on limiting debate.
Democrats control 55 of the 100 seats, and if all go along, five Republicans will be needed. Among those expected to vote to cut off debate are Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Orrin Hatch of Utah, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and John McCain of Arizona.
Hatch’s view was widely shared among that group. “This agreement isn’t everything I hoped it would be, and it isn’t what I would have written,” he said, “but sometimes the answer has to be yes.”
A lot of fellow Senate Republicans disagree. Today’s vote will be closely watched as an illustration of a growing divide in the party, a split that could reverberate in the 2014 and 2016 elections.
The three Republican senators often mentioned as 2016 presidential candidates — Florida’s Marco Rubio, Texas’ Ted Cruz and Kentucky’s Rand Paul — were quick to sharply criticize the deal.
Expected to also vote no is Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. He has often supported such agreements, but in recent years he has been blasted by tea party groups for being too conciliatory.
Next year, he faces a Republican primary challenge from businessman Matt Bevin. Bevin has been endorsed by the Senate Conservatives Fund, a political action committee founded by former South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint.
They, as well as other more conservative Republicans, see the plan announced last week by Senate Budget Committee Chairman Patty Murray, D-Wash., and House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., as failing to stop a government spending spree.
The plan would relax the automatic spending cuts, or sequester, during the current fiscal year and fiscal 2015. Spending on discretionary items, where Congress and the White House can set annual limits, would increase $63 billion over the sequester, to an annual total of $1.012 trillion this year and about $1.014 trillion next year. Current discretionary spending is at a $986 billion level.
The increase would be split between domestic and defense programs.