Senate Advances Budget Deal, Clearing Way For Final Passage

WASHINGTON -- The United States Senate advanced a budget compromise Tuesday that provides modest relief to across-the-board spending cuts and prevents another shutdown of the federal government in January.

The upper chamber voted 67-33 on cloture, thus meeting the 60-vote threshold to begin debate on the measure. The agreement, which passed the House of Representatives overwhelmingly last week, offers a partial break to the federal budget cuts known as sequestration, by raising spending levels slightly from $967 billion to $1.014 trillion over the next two years. It also produces savings and non-tax revenue totaling $85 billion, $20 billion to $23 billion of which would be devoted to deficit reduction.

The budget deal is expected to clear final passage, although some Republicans have raised concerns about reductions in cost of living benefits for military retirees.

"After careful review of the agreement, I believe it will do disproportionate harm to our military retirees," Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said in a statement ahead of the vote. "Our men and women in uniform have served admirably during some of our nation’s most troubling times. They deserve more from us in their retirement than this agreement provides."

Conservative groups like Heritage Action and Club for Growth also slammed the measure and urged Republicans to vote against it, claiming the deal did not include meaningful deficit reduction. Twelve Senate Republicans nonetheless voted in favor of advancing the deal: Sens. Lamar Alexander (Tenn.), Roy Blunt (Mo.), Saxby Chambliss (Ga.), Susan Collins (Maine), Jeff Flake (Ariz.), Orrin Hatch (Utah), John Hoeven (N.D.), Johnny Isakson (Ga.), Ron Johnson (Wis.), John McCain (Ariz.), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), and Rob Portman (Ohio). All Senate Democrats voted in favor of the measure.

Senate Budget Committee Chair Patty Murray (D-Wash.) defended the budget deal ahead of the vote, arguing that it would avert another crisis over funding for the government. Murray also said that she was able to reach an agreement with House Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), even though both sides had just come off an ugly battle over the 16-day government shutdown in October.

"The budget conference began at a time when distrust between Democrats and Republicans couldn’t have been higher," Murray said. "We had just two months to get a deal to avoid lurching toward another crisis -- and most people assumed there was no way the divide could be bridged."

"We focused on what was attainable, worked together to find common ground, and looked for ways we could compromise and take some steps toward the other," she added.

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