CAPITOL HILL — The U.S. Senate has voted 64 to 36 to approve a two-year federal budget that eases automatic spending cuts and averts the threat of another government shutdown.The measure received bipartisan support, which is a rarity in an otherwise politically fractured body. It now goes to the White House for President Barack Obama’s signature.
The budget gives Washington a two-year reprieve from the fiscal wars that halted federal operations for 16 days in October. Democratic Senator Richard Durbin was elated.
“What a refreshing development in this town, where so many times we [lawmakers] just fall flat on our face,” said Durbin.
The budget deal passed overwhelmingly in the House of Representatives last week. It proves that Congress can function, says Independent Senator Angus King.
“We can, in fact, talk to each other. We can, in fact, compromise. We can, in fact, make financial and fiscal arrangements around here that make sense, that are rational, that prioritize, and we can do our jobs,” he said.
Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray, a Democrat, crafted the deal with her Republican House counterpart. Murray said the accord softens automatic spending cuts while collecting additional revenues for a net reduction of the federal deficit.
“The bipartisan Budget Act puts jobs and economic growth first by rolling back those automatic and harmful cuts to education, medical research, infrastructure investments and defense jobs for the next two years,” said Murray.
Three dozen senators, all Republicans, voted against the bill, including fiscal hardliner Tom Coburn.
“It is a compromise for the politicians. It is not a compromise for the American people, because what it really does is increase spending and increase taxes.”
Coburn and other Republicans were disappointed that the budget fails to address America’s long-term fiscal imbalances, while Democrats complained that it does not extend federal compensation for the unemployed.
In the end, many lawmakers set aside their concerns and backed the compromise. Jared Bernstein of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities doubts bipartisanship will extend to other issues.
“Hard for me to see immigration reform, tax reform, minimum wages, these issues that still have really great partisan disagreements. I just don’t think we are there [ready for compromise]. Just because you jogged around the block does not mean you are ready to run a marathon,” said Bernstein.
Even as senators prepared to vote on the budget bill, the chamber was not free of partisan attacks. Republican Senator John Barrasso blasted Obama’s health care law.
“We have seen the president’s health care law is nothing more than a collection of deceptions, delays and disappointments,” said Barrasso.
Despite the budget deal, fiscal drama could return to the Capitol in February, when the government once again will reach its borrowing limit.