WASHINGTON - One day after winning lopsided House approval, bipartisan legislation to ease across-the-board spending cuts and reduce economy-rattling budget brinkmanship appears likely to command the 60 votes necessary to clear the Senate, officials in both parties said Friday.
Yet unlike in the House, significantly more Senate Republicans are expected to oppose the legislation than vote for it, highlighting the different political forces at work at opposite ends of the Capitol.
Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) announced a test vote for Tuesday on the measure, which cleared the House on an overwhelming bipartisan vote of 332-94.
The Veterans of Foreign Wars joined the ranks of the bill's opponents during the day, citing a provision to reduce cost of living increases for military retirees until they reach age 62. The result could mean "a cumulative loss in retirement income of $80,000" for a sergeant first class who retires at age 40, the group said.
"Although Iraq is over and the war in Afghanistan is winding down, we can't allow Congress to dismantle the programs they created over the past 12 years," said William A. Thien, the VFW's national commander.
A short while later, Republican Sens. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, Roger Wicker of Mississippi and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said they would oppose the measure unless the provision was changed. They said a 42-year-old sergeant first class retiring after 20 years would lose about $72,000 in income.
Overall, the legislation erases a total of $63 billion in across-the-board cuts in the next two budget years, and specifies $85 billion in savings over a decade, including the one relating to military retirement. The result is a net $23 billion cut in deficits through 2023, although critics argue the spending increases will happen first, and many of the savings years later, if at all.
By raising spending levels, the bill is also designed to eliminate the threat of another budget shutdown like the one this fall.
Senate supporters will need 60 votes to advance the bill, and even some opponents predicted that was likely to happen.
"My sense is that the procedural issues could be overcome and there could be just" a yes-or-no vote, said Sen. Bob Corker (R., Tenn.), who added he intends to oppose the measure because it increases spending.
He said unnamed Republicans have held private discussions on handling the legislation, but did not say if the leadership was involved.
Sen. Jeff Flake (R., Ariz.) also said he will join in making sure the measure gets 60 votes needed to advance to a final vote, even though he is inclined to oppose the bill on final passage.
Sen. Pat Toomey (R., Pa.) will oppose the bipartisan budget deal when it comes up for a Senate vote next week, he said in a news release Friday, criticizing the plan for increasing spending above the levels that had been previously agreed to.
"I have maintained that any budget deal alternative to current law must preserve the taxpayer savings of existing law. The budget agreement does not accomplish this basic goal," his release said. "Instead, this deal establishes new, higher budget caps to increase spending. The deal purports to offset those increases. But it does so, in some cases, with gimmicks and to a large degree with higher revenues."
Toomey, a fiscal hawk, has long fought for lower spending and taxes and "pro-growth" programs, so his opposition to a plan that increases spending, averts some budget cuts and raises some fees is not surprising. Conservative groups such as the Heritage Foundation and Club for Growth had lobbied against the bill because of its spending increases.
Sen. Bob Casey (D., Pa.) is expected to support the plan. "Neither side is happy with everything in the proposal but, in a year filled with far too much partisan fighting, this compromise is certainly a step in the right direction," he said in a news release. "It will help grow the Pennsylvania economy and provide two years of budget certainty, reducing partisan fights that only lead to short-term agreements."
Sen. Cory Booker (D., N.J.) said he would back the deal as a worthy compromise - "a bipartisan budget deal that has a lot in it that we should be proud of," he told CBS radio in New York. "Frankly, this is what whould happen in Washington. There's too much partisan gridlock and this is a time when we showed we could come together."
Sen. Robert Menendez (D., N.J.) could not be reached late Friday for comment.
When the House approved the plan 332-94 on Thursday, every member of Congress from Philadelphia and its Pennsylvania and New Jersey suburbs supported the measure.
- Jonathan Tamari