Budget deal nearing Senate approval, but not there yet

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WASHINGTON  — The budget deal struck by Republican and Democratic lawmakers that easily passed the House of Representatives last week has run into some opposition in the Senate. But according to a vote count by CNN, the deal appears to be nearing passage.

There are currently a total of 36 aye votes for the budget, according to the count, with four Republicans joining 31 Democrats and one independent. All no votes, according to the count, are coming from Republicans, with 21 Senate offices saying they plan to vote against the deal.

While Democrats do not have the 50 votes needed for final passage, top aides in both parties privately expressed confidence on Friday the bill will get the necessary support, even if a couple of wary moderate Democrats end up voting “no.”

But before the measure faces a final vote, it will need to pass the higher threshold of 60 votes to clear procedural hurdles. But Republicans – like Richard Burr of North Carolina and Jeff Flake of Arizona – have said they plan to back the motions that will eventually allow Democrats to only need a straight majority to pass the bill.

The four Republicans who plan to support the deal are Susan Collins of Maine, John McCain of Arizona, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and Orrin Hatch of Utah.

Hatch is the most recent Republican to come out in support of the bill. In a Monday statement, the Republican lawmaker said that “this agreement isn’t everything I’d hoped it would be, and it isn’t what I would have written. But sometimes the answer has to be yes.”

“The reality is that Republicans only control one-half of one-third of government,” Hatch said. “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.”

The deal worked out by House Budget Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan and Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray soared through the house, passing by a 332-94 vote. The budget – while smaller than some had wanted – is a bright spot of bipartisanship in what has been a year full of bitter partisanship.

For many, the deal represents a way to ensure that government doesn’t shut down again – like it did for 16 days in October.

In the Senate, however, lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have questioned aspects of the deal. More liberal senators – like Tom Harkin for Iowa – complained that an unemployment benefit extension was not included in the deal.

“There’s over a million people now who cannot find a job, out of work, and right at this time of year their unemployment insurance is being cut off,” Harkin told Radio Iowa last week. “It’s really unconscionable.”

If lawmakers don’t act, unemployment benefits – at a cost of $26 billion, according to the Congressional Budget Office – will expire for 1.3 million workers on December 28.

On the other side, more conservative members of the the Senate – like John Thune of South Dakota – said he can’t support the deal because it doesn’t “include meaningful spending reforms that address our debt and deficit.”

Republican Sen. Lindsay Graham of South Carolina, along with other senators, have also raised question 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,” Graham said in a release. “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.”

Over a quarter of the Senate remains on the fence – with 26 members, including 12 Democrats – saying they have not yet decided how they plan to vote. Representatives from five offices – two Democrats and three Republicans – said they are not announcing how they are voting.

“I will look closely at the details of this budget and evaluate how it meets the needs of New Mexicans and our country as a whole,” Democrat Sen. Martin Heinrich of New Mexico said. Republicans also remain undecided, like John Cornyn of Texas, whose spokesman said that the senator “will take a close look” at the deal but “is concerned about reversing spending cuts.”

For this vote count, CNN reached out to all 100 Senate offices and 12 have not responded.

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