By Lisa Mascaro
4:59 PM EST, December 18, 2013
WASHINGTON -- A bipartisan budget plan won final approval in Congress on Wednesday, with the Senate passing the hard-fought compromise.
President Obama was expected to swiftly sign the measure, which cleared the Senate 64 to 36. Nine Republicans joined all Democrats in approving the measure. Three Republicans who voted to advance the bill earlier in the week voted against it Wednesday. The House overwhelmingly passed it last week.
The $85-billion package is modest in scope but represents a rare bipartisan achievement for a divided Congress that has spent the past two years engaged in high-stakes standoffs over government budgets.
Under the accord reached by Rep. Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.), the former vice presidential nominee, and Senate Budget Committee Chair Patty Murray (D-Wash.), spending for 2014 and 2015 will rise by $63 billion, reversing some across-the-board cuts to defense accounts and social programs that only the most conservative lawmakers wanted to keep.
The increased spending was opposed vehemently by conservative groups, who split the GOP as they tried to stop the deal. It will be paid for with new fees on airline travel to pay for transportation security, as well as reductions in the pensions of new federal employees and younger, uninjured military personnel. There will be no new taxes.
To attract conservative votes, more than $22 billion in savings will be applied to reduce deficits.
Even though Republicans and Democrats celebrated the unusual moment of comity, lawmakers must revisit the deal next month, before funding for the government runs out. To prevent a government shutdown, Congress must pass legislation to fund government operations at the levels in the agreement.
Some Republicans who voted to advance the bill earlier in the week opposed its final passage Wednesday. Among those was Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), who said: “I simply couldn't support a budget agreement that trades spending increases today for potential spending cuts years down the road. We've seen that movie before, and we know how it ends."
Democrats and Republicans opposed the cuts affecting military retirees, but a last-minute attempt to undo them was pushed back, as lawmakers said they would revisit the issue. Those retirement cuts do not begin until 2016.
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