Senate Passes Bipartisan Budget Agreement

The Senate passed a bipartisan budget agreement today, sending the measure to President Obama for a signature.

The upper chamber voted 64 to 36 to approve the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013, which was crafted by Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and could help avert another government shutdown in January.

"If we didn't get a deal, we would have faced another CR [continuing resolution] that would have locked in those damaging automatic cuts or, worse, a potential government shutdown in just a few weeks," Murray said today.

The $85 billion measure overwhelmingly passed the House with a vote of 332 to 94 last week, but the bill's passage was much narrower in the Senate with only nine Republicans supporting it: Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine., Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, John Hoeven, R-N.D. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., Ron Johnson, R-Wis., John McCain, R-Ariz., Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, and Rob Portman, R-Ohio.

The Senate's top two Republicans - Sens. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and John Cornyn, R-Texas - both opposed the measure along with potential 2016 candidates Sens. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, Rand Paul, R-Ky., and Marco Rubio, R-Fla.

The budget deal stemmed from an agreement to end the 16-day government shutdown in October. Murray and Ryan met privately for two months to hammer out the details of the deal, which eliminates about $65 billion in sequester cuts while preserving entitlement programs and maintaining the same tax rates.

The measure does not extend unemployment insurance, which expires Dec. 28, and it cuts retirement benefits for future military recruits by reducing the cost-of-living adjustment, a point that several senators, including Sens. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Roger Wicker, R-Miss., spoke out against this week.

Sen. Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said the committee would review the change next year, and Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., introduced legislation that would undo the cost-of-living adjustment for military retirees.

While the budget deal is one step toward averting another government shutdown, there is still more work to be done. The next step will be for House and Senate appropriators to determine how to divide the money between agencies and government programs.