The Free Press, Mankato, MN

State, national news

December 17, 2013

Budget deal splits GOP leaders in House, Senate

WASHINGTON (AP) — Senate Republican leaders are criticizing a bipartisan budget deal, parting ways with their House counterparts who shepherded the measure through that chamber last week.

The split makes it harder for the Republican Party to present a united front as it approaches the midterm election year. And it shows that even modest tweaks in tax and spending policies trigger strong reactions in conservative circles.

Still, senators in both parties say the budget deal should have enough votes to pass and become law, perhaps by Wednesday. And some GOP activists play down the House-Senate divide's implications, saying it's driven by internal congressional politics more than by serious philosophical splits.

"Our leadership gets along pretty well, and coordinates pretty well with each other," said Terry Holt, a longtime Republican strategist and former congressional staffer with close ties to House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio.

Holt said it's not unusual for the minority party in the House or Senate to force the other party to provide the overwhelming majority of votes for contentious legislation.

Republicans control the House, and they provided more than half the "yes" votes when the budget deal passed the House 332 to 94. But Republicans hold only 45 of the Senate's 100 seats. GOP leaders are doing little or nothing to help the budget bill survive Tuesday, when a key procedural vote is scheduled.

"This is one of those votes you see fairly regularly," Holt said. "If they don't need people's votes, they don't push them."

Republicans note that a Democratic senator from Illinois, Barack Obama, voted in 2006 against raising the federal debt ceiling, when Republican George W. Bush was president. When Obama became president, he chided Republicans for opposing the same type of debt ceiling increases.

The bipartisan budget bill, which Obama supports, would restore about $63 billion in across-the-board spending cuts scheduled to take effect over the next two years. It calls for $85 billion in budget savings over the next decade. Among other things, it would extend existing cuts to Medicare providers, raise airline security fees and require federal civilian employees to pay more of their pension costs.

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