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Thursday eyed for Senate budget vote, August recess start

The timing of final votes uncertain as senators look to jet out of town for August recess

Scott, a former Florida governor, says Washington spends too much. He has indicated he will vote against the debt limit deal. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Scott, a former Florida governor, says Washington spends too much. He has indicated he will vote against the debt limit deal. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

The Senate appears set to spend another day in session before lawmakers can go home for August recess.

The chamber appears likely to vote Thursday on legislation that would avoid a $125 billion discretionary spending cut next year, as well as push off the threat of default on the nation’s debt until possibly late 2021.

[What the two-year budget deal means for federal spending

That’s despite an apparent deal to process a dozen of President Donald Trump’s nominees before the break, which had senators and aides saying late Tuesday they expected final passage would occur Wednesday in time to start the five-week summer break early.

A scheduling notice from Minority Whip Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., late Tuesday said votes on the budget deal and nominees were expected Wednesday; but a follow-up notice shifted its language, saying votes were now possible Thursday.

[Senate inches toward Wednesday budget deal vote]

Speaking off the floor late Wednesday morning, Majority Whip John Thune, R-S.D., said he could see final passage slipping a bit. “Anything, I suppose, is possible, but I would look for it probably more to happen tomorrow,” Thune said. “We’ll know more as the day plays out.“ 

Republicans leaving a lunch meeting later on Wednesday said the budget vote would take place Thursday, possibly late morning.

Later in the day, a spokesman for Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the votes had been scheduled for 11 a.m. Thursday.

McConnell, R-Ky., said on the floor in opening remarks that when the budget vote takes place, he expects the bill, which passed the House 284-149 last week, to receive hefty support.

“I don’t think any senators are actually rooting for a destabilizing continuing resolution. I certainly don’t think any senators are rooting for a debt limit crisis that would put our full faith and credit at risk,” he said. “So, I believe that every one of our colleagues wants this agreement to pass. That means every one of our colleagues should actually vote for it.”

Senate leadership has said for several days that they believe the spending caps and debt limit suspension bill has the votes to pass the Senate. But key Republicans have been encouraging wavering colleagues to support the measure, hoping to avoid a repeat of the somewhat dismal showing of GOP support in the House where 65 Republicans voted for the bill and 132 voted against it.

“We feel confident in the end that we’ll end up passing the budget,” Thune said. “Both sides will be delivering a significant number of votes.”

The magic number is 60 votes to get over the filibuster threshold.

On a similar two-year budget pact in 2018 that added $296 billion to spending caps, the Senate passed the measure on a 71-28 vote. But six senators who voted for it last year are no longer serving, and others have said they’ll oppose the 2019 iteration, which would give appropriators an extra $324 billion during fiscal 2020 and 2021.

‘Nail in the coffin’

President Donald Trump has repeatedly voiced his support for the legislation, but that hasn’t swayed conservative senators who believe that it would add too much to the nation’s debt.

“I’m voting ’no,’” John Kennedy, R-La., told Fox News on Wednesday. Members of both parties say government spending must be cut, he said. “But it’s like going to heaven. Everybody wants to go to heaven; nobody’s quite ready to take the trip.”

Speaking on CNBC, Rick Scott, R-Fla., said he was voting “no” as well.

“It’s hard to get things done up here, but we’ve got to start focusing on this debt,” Scott said Wednesday. “I don’t want government to shut down, but let’s have a legitimate conversation about how do we spend our money up here, let’s stop the waste, let’s live within our means.”

Rand Paul, R-Ky., is preparing to offer an amendment that would cap annual spending at lower levels, with a goal of balancing the budget within five years. Delivering an impassioned floor speech Wednesday, Paul declared “both parties are ruining our country” by running up the $22 trillion and rising debt.

“Today is the final nail in the coffin. The tea party is no more,” Paul said. “The budget deal today allows unlimited borrowing for nearly two years. …Fiscal conservatives, those who remain, should be in mourning.”

John Cornyn, R-Texas, said he didn’t believe GOP dissent was the reason for delaying final votes on the budget bill, however.

“I don’t think that’s it. We’ve just got work we need to do,” he said, noting in particular the Senate Judiciary markup scheduled for Thursday on legislation that seeks to change asylum law to help stem the flow of migrants from Central America to the U.S.-Mexico border. “But then I think we’ll be prepared to finish up our work and leave town,” Cornyn added.

Cornyn said senators ought to support the budget agreement stuck by Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin because the alternative would be much worse.

“The alternative is have a series of rolling, one-month [continuing resolutions]. Speaker Pelosi could make things pretty miserable for everyone here and create a lot of chaos,” Cornyn said. “I think we ought to realize there’s some benefit to having certainty and stability through the election in 2020.”

Lindsey Graham, chairman of the Senate State-Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee, went to Twitter to encourage support for the package.

“To my colleagues who oppose the budget deal and debt limit increase: What is your plan? Exceed the debt limit? Shut the government down? A continuing resolution that guts our military?” wrote Graham, R-S.C. “Our debt is driven by entitlements and mandatory spending — not discretionary spending.”

Senate Democrats have been mostly watching and waiting, while working with McConnell and other Republicans on processing the package of Trump nominees.

On the floor Wednesday morning, Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., challenged McConnell to bring the budget measure up for a vote right away.

“Why don’t we vote on the caps deal this morning and send it to the president’s desk?” Schumer said. “Speaking for the minority, Democrats have no objection to voting on the budget caps deal as soon as possible.”

David Lerman and Kellie Mejdrich contributed to this report.

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