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Senate passes sweeping budget deal

The Senate passed a sweeping two-year budget and debt ceiling deal on Thursday, sending the agreement to President Trump’s desk.

Senators voted 67-28 to approve the bill, which suspends the debt ceiling until mid-2021 and adds an estimated $1.7 trillion to the deficit over the next decade compared to automatic spending cuts that would have otherwise kicked in.


Twenty-three GOP senators joined with five Democrats to oppose the bill. Five senators, including four 2020 contenders, didn't vote.

The bill was one of the final must-pass items on the Senate’s to-do list, paving the way for the chamber to quickly leave for the five-week August recess. The House already passed the budget deal last week, meaning it now goes to Trump’s desk, where he’s expected to sign it.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) touted the deal shortly before the vote, saying Trump was "eager" to sign it. The deal was negotiated primarily by Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

“This is the agreement the administration has negotiated. This is the deal the House has passed. This is the deal President Trump is waiting and eager to sign into law. This is the deal that every member of this body should support when we vote,” he said.

He got a last-minute boost from Trump, who urged senators to support the agreement shortly before the vote.

“Budget Deal is phenomenal for our Great Military, our Vets, and Jobs, Jobs, Jobs! Two year deal gets us past the Election. Go for it Republicans, there is always plenty of time to CUT!” Trump tweeted.

The agreement includes enough sweeteners that both sides were able to claim victories, including more military spending for Republicans and census and opioid funding important to Democrats.

Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) had been clamoring for the Senate to pass the spending deal as soon as Tuesday, questioning why Republicans were pushing it later into the week.

“It will strengthen our national security and provide our troops with the resources they need to do a very difficult and often dangerous job, and it will clear the way for critical investments for those in the middle class,” Schumer said Thursday.

By raising the final two years of spending caps set forth in the 2011 Budget Control Act, the deal effectively ends the threat of severe automatic spending cuts, known as sequestration, that were intended to force a compromise in debt reduction.

The top-line for defense spending would be $738 billion and $740 billion for the 2020 and 2021 fiscal years, respectively. Nondefense spending would be $632 billion for fiscal 2020 and $634.5 billion for fiscal 2021.

The figures are significantly different than Trump’s fiscal 2020 request, which had top-line defense at $750 billion and $567 billion in nondefense. Overall, the deal adds more than $100 billion in new spending compared with fiscal 2019 levels, where top-line defense spending was $716 billion and nondefense was $620 billion.

But the higher nondefense numbers, plus lack of significant offsets for the increased spending, sparked fierce backlash from conservatives and split the Senate GOP caucus. The deal included $77 billion in cuts or revenue-raisers to help pay for the agreement.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) got a vote on an amendment that would implement the libertarian-leaning senator’s “penny plan” to balance the budget within five years. The amendment needed 60 votes to get added to the budget deal but was rejected in a 23-70 vote.

"Both parties have deserted – have absolutely and utterly deserted – America and show no care and no understanding and no sympathy for the burden of debt they are leaving the taxpayers, the young, the next generation, and the future of our country," Paul said arguing that the deal "marks the death of the Tea Party movement in America.”

Heritage Action warned that it would “key” the vote on the deal, meaning supporting it could impact a GOP members ranking with the group, arguing the agreement “would be the most fiscally egregious deal in recent years.”

Underscoring the uncertainty about how many Republican senators would back the agreement, both McConnell and Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), his No. 2, refused to say if half of the Senate GOP majority would vote for the deal. Sixteen GOP senators voted against a 2018 budget deal, though significantly more have opposed agreements in previous years.

"Well, we're in the process of working that vote. I'm hopeful and optimistic that when the time comes that we'll have the votes we need to get it done," Thune told reporters when asked if they would have the support of at least half the Republican conference heading into the vote.

In the end, 23 GOP senators voted against the bill, with opposition spanning the caucus from libertarian-leaning senators like Paul and Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), as well as freshmen Sens. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) and Mitt Romney (R-Utah).

GOP John Kennedy (La.), one of the "no" votes, told The Hill that he would oppose the measure because “it continues our deficit spending without much of an effort, if any, to try to save money.”

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), another "no" vote, also argued that lawmakers should have dealt with the debt ceiling and the budget caps separately. While Mnuchin urged Congress to lift the debt ceiling before the August break, lawmakers had until January to avoid across-the-board cuts under sequestration.

“Potentially given the way they negotiated it, but they say that about everything,” Rubio said when asked about the argument from leadership that this was the best possible deal in a divided government.

“Ultimately we should have dealt with the debt limit and we should have dealt with the spending caps,” he added. “I’m not sure those two are related.”

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