Update: Houston, We Have a Budget Deal in Washington

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December 18, 2013; CNN

As expected, the Senate voted to approve the Ryan-Murray budget deal. All 53 Democrats and the two independents who caucus with the Democrats voted for the deal, but only nine Republican senators joined the bipartisan parade. The nine Republicans in favor were Ron Johnson (WI), Saxby Chambliss (GA), John McCain (AZ), Susan Collins (ME), John Hoeven (ND), Johnny Isakson (GA), Lisa Murkowski (AK), Rob Portman (OH), and Orrin Hatch (UT). Most House Republicans voted for the deal, but the majority of Senate Republicans chose to rely on the Democrats’ majority as an excuse enabling them to vote “no.”

Democrats expressed misgivings about the termination of unemployment insurance for the long-term unemployed, but voted for the bill because, as Montana’s Jon Tester said, “We need to get some certainty, and that’s what this does.”

In the days before the vote, Republicans latched on to the one percent cut in cost of living adjustments (COLA) in military pensions as a rallying point against the deal. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) asked the president to hold the bill until the $6.3 billion cut in military pensions for retirees under the age of 62 was replaced by some other cut. However, John McCain, himself a military retiree, supported the COLA cut and noted that the Bowles-Simpson budget study recommended abolishing the military pension COLA entirely. Despite McCain’s arguments, Patty Murray (D-WA) promised the two Republican senators from Georgia that she would try to exclude disabled veterans from the pension change, which may explain why both Peach State senators bolted from the majority of their GOP colleagues.

The two-year budget deal establishes a top-line budget number of $1.012 trillion in discretionary spending for 2014, and $1.014 trillion in 2015. Had the budget deal not been approved, under the budget caps the 2014 top-line number would have been $967 billion.

Now, the game switches to the 12 appropriations bills or omnibus appropriation bill that will have to be enacted to allocate the $1.012 trillion among federal departments and agencies. Nonprofits had better be walking the halls of Congress buttonholing the appropriators—unless they think that Congress should be left to its own devices to attach dollars to programs.—Rick Cohen