Budget Deal Could Stumble Hard in the Senate
The plan extends a 2 percent cut to Medicare for two years, through 2023. The plan also increases airline ticket fees in an effort to offset security costs. Pensions for federal workers and military personnel will be cut.
Congressional leaders are banking on the plan to avoid a governmental shutdown. The federal government closed its doors for 16 days in October when lawmakers proved unable to agree on a spending plan. A stopgap measure expires on Jan. 15, raising the specter of another shutdown if the Murray-Ryan plan falls flat.
It originally was thought the Senate might prove an easier sell than the House but GOP lawmakers in the upper chamber have offered a variety of reasons for opposing the plan. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), facing a tough re-election fight in the 2014 Republican primary, opposes a provision that imposes a one percent reduction in cost of living benefits for some military retirees, a move he said “could significantly impact military retiree benefits.”
“I believe it will do disproportionate harm to our military retirees," Graham said. “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."
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who originally expressed his intent to vote for the plan, is reportedly reconsidering his intentions because of the cut in military retiree benefits, which carries a $6 billion price tag over 10 years. The two political allies are joined by Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.).
"I cannot support a budget agreement that fails to deal with the biggest drivers of our debt but instead pays for more federal spending on the backs of our active duty and military retirees -- those who have put their lives on the line to defend us,” Ayotte said. “My hope is that both parties can work together to replace these unfair cuts that impact our men and women in uniform with more responsible savings, such as the billions that the Government Accountability Office has identified in waste, duplication and fraud across the federal government."
Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), one of the lawmakers most closely aligned with the Tea Party movement, objected to the implementation of spending levels above those imposed by sequestration – an across-the-board spending cut adopted as part of an earlier budget agreement.
“Rather than enacting reforms to make government more efficient, the budget deal makes more government more expensive,” Lee said. “Sequestration is far from ideal, but at least it forced Congress get serious about excessive spending. This deal cuts into the modest gains taxpayers have won since 2011 by trading concrete spending reductions over the next two years for theoretical spending cuts a decade from now. In the meantime, the deal raises taxes on all air travelers so that Congress can continue to ignore both waste in discretionary spending and the ticking fiscal time-bomb of our entitlement programs.”
Cruz, another Tea Party favorite – this one with presidential ambitions – said the budget deal “moves in the wrong direction -- it spends more, taxes more, and allows continued funding for Obamacare. I cannot support it.”
“Supporters of this plan are asking for more spending now in exchange for minor changes that may possibly reduce spending later,” Cruz said. “That may be a fine deal for Washington, but it’s not for the American people."
Supporters are hoping to attract backing from some hesitant Republicans to at least allow a vote on the package. Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), who served on the conference committee and was a budget director for former President George W. Bush, heads that list, along with uncommitted lawmakers like Sens. Susan Collins, (R-Maine), Jeff Flake, R-Ariz.), Richard Burr (R-N.C.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), and John Hoeven (R-N.D.).