In the waning days of a year marked by the 16-day government shutdown, the Senate has voted to send a modest two-year budget agreement to President Barack Obama’s desk.
The final vote on the measure approving the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013 was 64-36.
It needed only 51 votes to pass; the legislation cleared its most difficult hurdle earlier this week in a 67-33 procedural vote, when 12 Republicans joined with all Democrats to advance it.
The agreement -- brokered by Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisc. -- unwinds some of the most painful planned cuts of budget “sequestration” and makes modest changes to raise non-tax revenues.
In a statement, the president thanked congressional leaders for working together on the bipartisan budget and urged passage of more "bills that fund our government and refrain from fighting old ideological battles."
"All told, it’s a good first step away from the shortsighted, crisis-driven decision-making that has only served to act as a drag on our economy," he said of the measure.
The president is expected to sign the legislation before he leaves on a holiday vacation on Friday. But the bill’s backers are already calling for a “technical correction” to change a part of the bill that would adversely affect disabled military veterans.
That’s because the budget deal includes new limits on pensions for military retirees who are between the ages of 38 to 62 -- anyone who has served for more than 20 years in the military but hasn't yet reached retirement age. The legislation reduces their cost-of-living adjustments -- the percentage that their pension checks go up each year to keep pace with inflation -- by 1 percent.
Critics have pointed out that the slower pension growth would apply to disabled veterans who are not able to work after their retirement from the armed services.
Both Murray and Ryan support changing the language to ensure regular benefits for the disabled.
The “technical correction” would take the form of a separate stand-alone bill passed after the larger budget agreement has been approved.
Technical corrections have historically been very common, especially for lengthy and complex legislation. But intense partisanship has made even these types of changes more difficult to move through Congress.
The entire package of military pension cuts - not just those for the disabled - drew intense opposition from a number of senators, beginning last week. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., accused Senate leadership of trying to push the deal through so fast that they were leaving military retirees behind.
"We're in a big hurry around here to show you how functional we are. Even when we're functional, we're dysfunctional," Graham said Tuesday.
First published December 18 2013, 11:46 AM