Senate Approves Budget Deal, Reducing Chances Of A Shutdown

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), walks to the chamber for the final votes on the bipartisan budget deal on Wednesday. // AP, J. Scott Applewhite
The deal, with much less drama than past spending votes, is OK'd by a simple majority nearly a week after the House approved the measure.

The Senate passed a two-year bipartisan budget deal aimed at easing automatic spending cuts and avoiding a government shutdown, following a House vote on the measure last week.

The vote by a simple majority was absent the partisan brinksmanship that has become a hallmark of budget deals in recent memory.

The appropriations committees in both chambers must now set in stone a $1.012 trillion fiscal 2014 spending bill before current spending authority expires. Congress also faces a spring 2014 to raise the debt ceiling — another potential partisan standoff.

Last Thursday, the House voted 332 to 94 to approve the deal, which was hammered out by Republican Paul Ryan and Democrat Patty Murray.

The Washington Post outlines the details below:

"— Discretionary spending would be set at $1.012 trillion for 2014 and $1.014 trillion for fiscal 2015. This is basically all federal agency spending and doesn't include 'mandatory' programs like Social Security or Medicare or emergency spending on wars. It's also higher than the $967 billion that was allocated next year under current law.

"Now, we still don't know what each particular agency will receive in funding. That will get determined by the appropriations committees in the House and Senate, who now have to finish up spending bills by Jan. 15 to avoid a government shutdown. Think of the current bill as setting an overall cap on discretionary spending and making that process easier.

"— The bill would provide partial relief from the automatic 'sequestration' spending cuts, giving agencies an extra $63 billion over two years, split between defense and domestic programs. So for 2014, the defense budget will be $520.5 billion and the remaining domestic discretionary programs, including health, transportation, and housing, will get $491.8 billion."

Correction at 11 a.m. ET, Dec. 19. Debt Ceiling Deadline:

Earlier, we wrote that Congress faces "a Jan. 15 deadline" to raise the debt ceiling. But as USA Today writes:

"The October budget agreement that ended the shutdown suspended the debt ceiling through early February. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew said in November that the debt limit will hit no later than March. However, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office said it is unlikely the U.S. Treasury will need a debt ceiling increase before March, and depending on how much revenue the government takes in, the date could shift until May or June."

Update at 6:50 p.m. ET. Obama: Budget Deal A 'Good First Step':

In a White House statement, President Obama called the budget deal "a good first step away from shortsighted, crisis-driven decision-making that has only served to act as a drag on our economy."

"It's a budget that unwinds some of the damaging sequester cuts that have harmed students and seniors and acted as headwinds our businesses had to fight," he said. "It clears a path for critical investments in things like education and research that have always grown our economy and strengthened the middle class. And it will continue to reduce our deficits at a time when we've seen four of the fastest years of deficit reduction since the end of World War II."

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