Budget bill moves toward final passage in U.S. Senate

— A bipartisan budget bill that would ease some but not all of painful budget cuts that would otherwise slam the Pentagon and domestic agencies passed a pivotal test in the Senate on Tuesday.

The Senate advanced the measure over a filibuster threshold on a 67-33 vote that ensures the measure will pass the Democratic-led chamber no later than Wednesday and head to the White House to be signed into law.

Top Senate Republicans opposed the bill but didn’t try to engineer its defeat. It won sweeping GOP support in the House in a vote last week.

The measure would ease some of the harshest cuts to agency budgets required under automatic spending curbs commonly known as sequestration.

It would replace $45 billion in scheduled cuts for the 2014 budget year already underway, lifting agency budgets to a little more than $1 trillion, and it also would essentially freeze spending at those levels for 2015. It substitutes other spending cuts and new fees to replace the automatic cuts and devotes a modest $23 billion to reducing the deficit over the coming decade.

It would also stabilize a broken budget process after a partial government shutdown in October that inflicted political harm upon Republicans. The GOP has since rebounded because of the much-criticized roll-out of Obama’s health care law and the party wishes to keep the focus on that topic rather than Washington political brinksmanship.

Louisiana’s senators, Mary Landrieu, a Democrat, and David Vitter, a Republican, split on the budget, with Landrieu supporting it and Vitter opposed.

“There are some things I don’t like about it but, on the other hand, I have to weigh that against the fact that I would be — and I think the people I represent — would be less happy if we had another government shutdown,” Landrieu said late Tuesday. “The people have sent us a strong message in Washington that they expect us to work together to find common ground and that’s what this budget compromise is.”

Vitter, though, had too many issues with the deal.

“I’m all for getting a bipartisan budget deal. But this one relies on the same sorts of gimmicks that have gotten us where we are — like spending more money now and saying that’s offset with cuts 10 years from now,” Vitter said in a prepared statement. “Or instead of cutting, grabbing revenue from current military retirees and air travelers. We need real spending reform instead.”

When the House approved the deal last week, most of the Louisiana delegation backed it.

Reps. Bill Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge; Charles Boustany, R-Lafayette; Vance McAllister, R-Swartz; and John Fleming, R-Minden, were all for it, while Reps. Steve Scalise, R-Jefferson, and Cedric Richmond, D-New Orleans, voted against it.

“This bipartisan bill takes the first steps toward rebuilding our broken budget process. And hopefully, toward rebuilding our broken Congress,” said Senate Budget Committee Chairman Patty Murray, D-Wash., who negotiated the measure with House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., his party’s vice presidential nominee last year. “We’ve spent far too long here scrambling to fix artificial crises instead of working together to solve the big problems we all know we need to address.”

Twelve Republicans voted with Democrats to advance the measure over a 60-vote filibuster threshold demanded by GOP leaders.

Announcements Monday by Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch, of Utah, and Georgia Sens. Johnny Isakson and Saxby Chambliss, as well as a strong hint by Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., that they would back that step appeared to seal enough GOP support to advance the measure.

Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., whose home-state GOP colleague Ryan was a top negotiator on the bill, swung behind it Sunday.

Other Republicans voting to advance the measure included Sens. Roy Blunt, of Missouri; Rob Portman, Ohio; Lamar Alexander, Tennessee; and John McCain and Jeff Flake, of Arizona. Some Republicans, like Alexander and Blunt, said they would oppose the measure on final passage. Flake says he’s a “lean ‘no’” as well.

“Sometimes the answer has to be yes,” Hatch said. “The reality is that Republicans only control one-half of one-third of government. Ultimately, this agreement upholds the principles conservatives stand for and, with Democrats controlling the White House and the Senate, it is the best we could hope for.”

Most Senate Republicans opposed the legislation despite the sweeping GOP support it enjoyed in the House last week.

The top Senate Republican, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, opposed the measure. He is embroiled in a primary with a tea party challenger, businessman Matt Bevin and said he wants to preserve hard-won spending cuts he helped engineer in a 2011 budget deal..

“For the first time since the Korean War, government spending has declined for two years in a row,” McConnell said in a statement. “This was hard-won progress on the road to getting our nation’s fiscal house in order. We should not go back on that commitment.”

“We’re keeping the government open and screwing all military retirees,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.

Jordan Blum, of The Advocate Washington bureau, contributed to this report.