(WASHINGTON) -- The Senate on Wednesday passed a stopgap spending bill to avert a government shutdown at week’s end and buy lawmakers two more weeks to reach a long-term funding deal, with the White House offering up Vice President Biden to lead those negotiations.
The Senate voted 91-9 to pass the two-week extension that would cut $4 billion in funding. The bill now goes to the White House for President Obama’s signature.
The nine senators voting against the bill included Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, the Senate’s number-four Democrat. The other lawmakers opposing the bill were Democrats Tom Harkin of Iowa, Carl Levin of Michigan, and Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Republicans Mike Crapo of Idaho, Orrin Hatch of Utah, Mike Lee of Utah, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Jim Risch of Idaho.
Republicans touted the bill’s passage as a victory after Democrats ultimately relented in their efforts to pass a short-term bill with no cuts at all.
“This is a long-awaited acknowledgement by Democrats in Congress that we have a spending problem around here,” the Senate’s top Republican, Mitch McConnell, said on the chamber floor Wednesday morning. “It’s hard to believe when we’re spending $1.6 trillion more than we’re taking in a single year, that it would take this long to cut a penny in spending, but it’s progress nonetheless.”
“It’s also encouraging to hear the White House say yesterday they’d be supportive of a four-week CR with $8 billion in cuts. So it’s encouraging that the White House and Congressional Democrats now agree that the status quo won’t work, that the bills we pass must include spending reductions.”
Democrats led by Harry Reid initially blasted the GOP’s stopgap proposal last Wednesday. Reid spokesman Jon Summers denounced it as an “extreme package,” a “non-starter” in the Senate, and “a two-week version of the reckless” $61 billion seven-month bill passed earlier by House Republicans.
But late last Friday they changed their stance, arguing that the two-week bill was actually a concession to Democrats since it included cuts they had previously supported. On Tuesday, Reid told reporters that “these are our programs, so we’ll pass this.”
Other lawmakers on that side of the aisle were left fuming at the GOP. Sanders, an independent who caucuses with Democrats, accused Republicans of hypocrisy for opposing higher taxes for the wealthy but then turning around and prioritizing deficit reduction.
“When it came to giving huge tax breaks to the wealthiest people in this country I didn’t hear my Republican friends say, ‘Oh gee, we can’t do that because it’s going to drive up the deficit,’” Sanders said.
“Now suddenly we have people who have great concerns about the national debt and the deficit and they intend to balance that budget on the backs of working people, the elderly, the sick, the poor, the children.”
While lawmakers used Wednesday's short-term deal to avert a shutdown at week’s end, they have merely kicked the can down the road – the next question becomes whether they can reach a long-term deal to avert a shutdown come March 18.
Reid said at a press conference after the vote that members of Congress from both sides of the aisle have been invited to meet with Vice President Biden, either on Capitol Hill or at the White House, to start discussing a long-term measure.
“In the next 24 hours there will be some meetings that will be directed by Vice President Biden,” Reid said.
“Negotiations on a long-term measure need to begin immediately,” urged Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-NY, calling on Republicans to “sit down at the negotiating table right away.”
As an indication of how challenging that road ahead could be, the Senate’s number-two Democrat, Dick Durbin, said it would take “a superhuman effort” from all sides to reach a long-term deal.
“I don’t think we should be celebrating today,” he cautioned.
Already the war of words has started to heat up. Republicans have expressed a reluctance to negotiate until Democrats unveil a plan of their own, a stance that Reid on Wednesday called “shallow” and “foolish.”
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