Budget Plan Set to Clear Senate

December 17, 2013
Colorado Senators Udall and Bennet voted Tuesday to advance the budget deal

Colorado Senators Udall and Bennet voted Tuesday to advance the budget deal

WASHINGTON — Colorado’s two senators voted to cut off debate on a motion that would have prevented the U.S. Senate from considering a key budget accord, clearing the way for passage of a deal that raises budget caps in 2014 and 2015 in exchange for extending them in 2022 and 2023.

Democrats Mark Udall and Michael Bennet used similar language to describe their votes Tuesday morning, but emphasized different parts of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013.

“While this budget agreement is not perfect, it reduces the federal deficit, increases economic certainty, and paves the way toward a budget deal that finally gets our fiscal house in order,” Udall said in statement.

“This is by no means a perfect agreement and leaves many issues unaddressed. It does, however, represent a step forward and departs from Washington’s bad habit of lurching from one manufactured crisis to the next,” Bennet said.

The vote was 67-33.  All 55 senators who caucus with the Democrats and 12 Republicans voted “aye” for cloture, while 33 Republicans voted “nay.”

The Senate is expected to vote on final passage for the agreement on Wednesday. It would come five days after the House of Representatives voted 332 to 94 for the two-year budget accord.

Deficit hawks and veterans’ groups have each denounced the budget deal.

Americans for Prosperity criticized the accord because it increases spending. Instead of leaving in place the budget caps that lawmakers agreed to in the Budget Control Act of 2011, it raises the caps by $48 billion in the next two years.

State Director Dustin Zvonek said Udall and Bennet had broken the spirit and letter of the 2011 deal.

“I can’t say I’m surprised, because these are two guys who perpetuated the lie of the year: that Coloradans could keep their health insurance if they like it and keep their doctor if they like it,” Zvonek said in an interview, referring to the senators’ statements about the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who voted against the motion to cut off debate, also expressed disappointment with the deal.

“Most of my members came to Washington to reduce spending. I hated to walk away from something that was working,” McConnell told reporters.

To the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the deal cuts federal spending for veterans benefits too much. By reducing cost-of-living-adjustment for military retirees younger than 62, the agreement imposes an extra burden on combat veterans.

“(T)he COLA penalty breaks the faith of military retirees and puts the continued viability of the All-Volunteer Military in jeopardy,” VFW National Commander William A. Thien said in a statement Friday.

Whether the budget agreement reduces or increases the federal debt depends on future Congresses. The Congressional Budget Office said the deal could reduce the deficit over the next ten years by $23 billion.

The accord would raise defense and non-defense spending by $22 billion each in fiscal year 2014 and by $9 billion each in fiscal year 2015, according to the CBO. The Budget Control Act of 2011, whose automatic, round-the-board spending cuts began earlier this year, had set the annual caps at $967 billion.

In exchange for raising the caps, the accord would extend the length of the Budget Control Act beyond its original expiration date by two years to 2023. In addition, it would reduce direct spending by $78 billion and increase revenues by $7 billion. The deal contains two dozen cuts to federal programs, including a provision that requires federal employees hired after 2013 to contribute 1.3 percent more for their retirement benefits.

With a Democrat in the White House and Democrats enjoying a 10-seat advantage in the upper chamber, many Republicans felt they had little choice.

“The budget agreement is not perfect, but given the political possibilities, it was accepted as a better alternative than shutdown,” a Senate GOP aide said speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the matter freely.

President Obama has said he would sign the budget deal into law.

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