Budget deal: Senate Republicans vote to advance bill they hate

OK, most Democrats hate the budget deal, too, but more is at stake for Republicans. Thankfully for them, Senate rules will allow a vote for and, then, against the bill. Huh?

Yuri Gripas/Reuters
Senator John McCain (R) of Arizona talks to reporters after a Senate cloture vote on budget bill on Capitol Hill in Washington December 17, 2013.

The Senate on Tuesday moved the two-year budget deal announced last week to the brink of passage. With the House having passed the bill last week, it is now all but certain that the budget package that virtually no one in Washington likes will soon become law.

The Senate voted to end debate on the bill Tuesday – a procedure called cloture that requires 60 votes, or else the minority can filibuster. The deal forged by Rep. Paul Ryan (R) of Wisconsin and Sen. Partty Murray (D) of Washington passed the cloture vote, 67 to 33. The Senate is expected to formally pass the bill Wednesday in a vote that requires only a simple majority.

The bill will fund the government through the end of fiscal year 2015 (Sept. 30, 2015, to be precise), which means Congress has spared America from the phrase "government shutdown" for at least a year and a half.

That, in itself, essentially encapsulates why 12 Republican senators joined all 55 Democrats to help move forward a bill that does almost nothing that Democrats or Republicans want – no tax reform, no entitlement reform, no extended unemployment benefits.

“I don’t like the deal, but it’s a deal,” stated Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, one of the Republicans to hold her nose and vote "yes" Tuesday.

The lessons of the October government shutdown are still too raw for Republicans, who saw the public turn on them during the shutdown, according to polls.

But the list of Republicans who voted for and against the deal is instructive.

Among those who voted "no": every Republican facing a potentially competitive reelection in 2014. Apparently, "deal" is still a four-letter word for those who fear being "primaried" by tea partyers in 2014.

"This is a clear case of managing the vote" to protect potentially vulnerable senators, writes Ed Morrissey on the right-leaning "Hot Air" blog.

Among those who voted "yes": the group of seasoned Republican senators (not facing tough reelections) "who've been willing to join with Democrats this year to continue moving legislation through the Senate," writes Ed O'Keefe at The Washington Post's "The Fix" blog. Call them the GOP's 2013 pragmatic caucus, and they include Senator Murkowski and Sens. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, Susan Collins of Maine, Orrin Hatch of Utah, and John McCain of Arizona.

Curiously, the "yes" vote also included some surprise conservatives who have tea party credentials, such as Sens. Jeff Flake of Arizona and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin.

"Defense hawks like McCain voting to end sequestration isn’t surprising, and professional milquetoasts like Murkowski and Collins supporting a bipartisan deal is par for the course," writes Matt Purple of the conservative American Spectator blog. "But Jeff Flake? Ron Johnson? Conservative support seems to stem from a desire to avoid another government shutdown (as Johnson acknowledged over the weekend) and siphon all public attention onto Obamacare."

And those who voted "yes" and "no"? Yes, that's right. The Senate's arcane rules allow senators to vote "yes" to move a bill past the 60-vote threshold for cloture, then vote against the final bill, knowing it can still pass with a simple majority.

Senators Alexander and Flake are expected to flip their "yes" votes Tuesday for "no" votes Wednesday, as is Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R) of Georgia.

As Mr. O'Keefe of "The Fix": notes: "It's one of the beauties of serving in the Senate – senators can tell voters that they voted for congressional productivity – something Americans are desperately seeking – but still vote against the actual proposal."

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