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With Little Suspense, Budget Deal Heads to the Senate

McConnell has insisted the government won't shut down. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
McConnell has insisted the government won't shut down. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Updated 6:48 p.m. | The 2015 debt limit standoff is on track to end with a whimper.  

Other than the days of speeches, it’s probably over. The Senate might not even have to work over the weekend. With the House voting 266-167 Wednesday to pass a budget agreement that provides for the suspension of the debt limit into 2017, all that would be left is for the Senate to act and clear the measure for President Barack Obama’s signature.  

House Appropriations Chairman Harold Rogers managed the floor debate for the GOP majority, and the Kentucky Republican was looking ahead to the next step, which is the detail-oriented work of crafting an omnibus spending bill by Dec. 11.  

“With passage of this important agreement, my committee stands at the ready to implement the details of the deal — going line by line through budgets and making the tough but necessary decisions to fund the entire federal government in a responsible way,” Rogers said. “We will begin work with our Senate counterparts immediately.”  

As in the House, there’s been no shortage of conservative opposition to the deal reached between the top four congressional leaders and the White House, but it’s not as though those lawmakers were ever expected to back the deal.  

As anticipated, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell moved quickly to file a motion to limit debate on the budget agreement once the papers arrived from the House. Under the rules, the key vote to limit debate would come Friday.  

The timing is such that post-cloture debate would run out sometime over the weekend, meaning a Saturday or Sunday session is possible. But there appears to be enough time before the exhaustion of extraordinary measures to avert default to give senators their weekends and punt the final votes to Monday.  

Even with concerns about crop insurance from farm-state lawmakers, the measure was expected to get the 60 votes needed from a governing majority of Democrats and Republicans to advance.  

“This deal cements the unacceptable precedent that every dollar of increased defense spending should be matched with a dollar of increased non-defense spending,” said Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala. “This is upside-down: If an emergency requires more defense spending, common sense says we should seek to identify reductions, not hikes, to spending in non-defense accounts.”  

The complaints from Sessions, who was previously the top Republican on the Senate Budget Committee, were echoed by the right flank on and off the Hill.  

The House Freedom Caucus, for instance, blasted both the substance of the budget deal and the process by which it was developed not long after speaker-in-waiting Paul D. Ryan announced he would back the accord.  

“This deal is an affront to open, accountable, and limited government. It plunges our nation into debt to the tune of nearly $20 trillion, busts the spending caps enacted by Congress just a few years ago, perpetuates our looming entitlement crisis by pilfering money from Social Security, and contains budget and accounting gimmicks that are manifestly fraudulent,” the conservative group said in a statement.  

Dollar-for dollar increases was the operating principle for Senate Democrats throughout the budget and appropriations process, where they united against considering spending bills written to post-sequester levels. President Barack Obama actually vetoed the defense policy bill last week over its reliance on the Overseas Contingency Operations account for war funding — though the budget deal ultimately increased the OCO levels.  

“For months, we Democrats have asked for a budget that increases spending significantly above sequester levels, and does so in a way that is equally balanced between defense and key middle-class programs. This agreement does both,” Sen. Charles E. Schumer of New York, the No. 3 Democrat, said after the agreement was unveiled.  

McConnell’s Kentucky GOP colleague Rand Paul has already pledged to seek to filibuster the measure, though he lacked leverage beyond giving a long speech. Paul was on the presidential campaign trail as the House debated the agreement Wednesday, with the CNBC presidential debate taking place in Boulder, Colo.  

But McConnell was insistent from the outset, stating as early as his post-2014 election victory news conference at the University of Louisville, that there wouldn’t be a default or a shutdown on his watch.  

“At a time of diverse and challenging global threats … the importance of this cannot be overstated. Our all-volunteer force loyally goes into harm’s way, and our commanders tells us that additional resources are required to ensure their safety and preparedness,” McConnell said Wednesday on the Senate floor. “I urge colleagues to consider these important issues as they continue to examine the agreement.”  

And what about outgoing Speaker John A. Boehner, the other Republican leader being pummeled by the right over the agreement? The Republican from Ohio will be gone from Congress by the time the Senate makes the final procedural moves.

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