12.16.2013 1

Will Senate Republicans filibuster the Ryan-Murray budget agreement?

Mitch McConnell Gives a Press ConferenceBy Tom Toth

Senate Republicans have a decision to make.

Last Thursday, the House of Representatives passed the budget agreement negotiated by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA). At this point, however, not enough republican senators have come out in support of the deal to ensure cloture and there are several reasons why there may end up not being enough.

Due to the bill’s design, the deciding factor for passage will come down to the sum of trust for Senate Democrats from Republicans in the chamber and Harry Reid’s recent leadership decisions may have already driven the proverbial nail into the coffin of any such agreement.

The agreement contains language that allows Senate Democrats to exchange sequester cuts with tax increases by a simple majority vote by removing “point of order” rules requiring 60-vote approval for tax increases. Senate Republicans are hardly keen to approve such limitations on their minority power—especially given Harry Reid’s recent maneuver to remove the filibuster from all presidential appointments except Supreme Court justices.

The agreement, already lacking wide support from either party, also increases the deficit. The bill increases spending immediately with a (nonbinding) agreement for spending cuts by 2023. Simply put, passing the exact type of clean continuing resolution demanded by the Democrats just two months ago, would cost less than this agreement. Furthermore, between this bill becoming law and the conjectural cuts therein, there will be a decade of new Congresses and as many as two presidential administrations. Senate Republicans may have learned from the history of making bipartisan budget agreements with nonbinding promises of cuts in the future with tax increases going immediately into effect.

Consider President Reagan’s 1982 agreement with Democrats to raise taxes in exchange for future spending cuts. The deal looked promising at the onset—$3 in spending cuts for every $1 in increased taxes—but, lo and behold, the tax increases were implemented immediately and the spending cuts never materialized. What is the difference between now and 30 years ago?  Democrats seem to be even less inclined to cut federal spending—so let the buyer beware.

In addition to other specifics within the bill that have drawn the ire of both Republicans and Democrats—the plan could cut as much as $124,000 from veterans’ retirement pay and doesn’t extend unemployment benefits—Republicans simply have no reason to either trust Democrats nor capitulate further minority powers in the Senate.

To bring the bill up for a vote, Senate Democrats will twice need five Republicans to break party rank and support ending debate on the agreement—once for cloture and once for the point of order resulting from the budget’s provisions to immediately increase spending.

Almost nobody on Capitol Hill has a palate for another partial government shutdown, but simply threatening a shutdown will likely not be enough to move the Republicans in support of the bill.

Senate Republicans, then, have a decision to make. Given Harry Reid’s scorched earth legislative strategies of the last several months, don’t count on on Republican Senators being cooperative lambs—they simply have no reason to be.

Tom Toth is the social media director for Americans for Limited Government.

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