Senate Republicans With 2014 Races Wary of Backing Budget

House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan says the Senate needs to pass a two-year spending plan this week to avoid another U.S. government shutdown.

His fellow Republicans running for re-election in tough Senate races next year aren’t listening.

Of the 11 Republicans with 2014 re-election contests, nine today opposed advancing the budget deal to a final Senate vote this week. They are trying to inoculate themselves against attacks that they sought to raise U.S. spending.

Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Susan Collins of Maine, both up for re-election in 2014, were among 12 Republicans who backed Democrats in the 67-33 vote to end the budget debate.

Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Republican Thad Cochran of Mississippi, both facing primaries, joined 2014 candidates Mike Enzi of Wyoming, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and John Cornyn of Texas voting against advancing the budget.

“Anyone up in 2014 is as nervous as a Christmas goose and they’ll probably vote against it,” said Ross Baker, a congressional expert at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey. “Given the risks involved, none of them wants to gratuitously antagonize the conservative Republican base.”

The other Senate Republicans seeking re-election next year voting no today included Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, James Risch of Idaho, Pat Roberts of Kansas and Jeff Sessions of Alabama.

Democrats, Independents

Republican Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina, the appointed successor to Jim DeMint who must stand for election in 2014, also voted against advancing the budget.

All 53 Senate Democrats and two independents voted to advance the budget. In the House, almost equal numbers of Republicans and Democrats voted for the plan, by a 332-94 margin on Dec. 12.

In a Dec. 13 statement, Graham said he opposes the deal because it will “do disproportionate harm to our military retirees,” whose pension benefits will be affected. Graham is a member of the Armed Services Committee.

In previous election cycles, Republican versus Republican challenges in the Senate -- such as former Indiana Senator Richard Lugar’s 2012 defeat by state Treasurer Richard Mourdock -- gained national attention because they were rare, as Tea Party-backed challengers focused instead on House races.

Now, “it is a wider phenomenon,” said Nathan Gonzales, deputy editor of the Rothenberg Political Report, citing at least seven Senate Republicans who face primary challenges.

Spending Cuts

The $1.01 trillion measure would ease $63 billion in automatic spending cuts and establish a budget for the next two years.

“Surely we can at least allow a vote on a Paul Ryan proposal that is supported 2-1 by House Republicans,” Alexander told reporters today. “How can we govern if we can’t do that.”

Alexander said he will oppose the budget bill in the final vote. “I think it’s the wrong policy,” he said. Final action on the budget requires a simple majority vote.

President Barack Obama has said he’ll sign the measure.

The Republican “no” votes underscore the challenge for lawmakers who are being targeted in record numbers by limited-government groups including the Club for Growth and local Tea Party groups financing primary challengers. The Club for Growth urges deeper spending cuts than Democrats and some Republicans endorse.

Raises Fees

The budget deal reached by Ryan and Democratic Senator Patty Murray of Washington, leaders of their chambers’ budget committees, would set discretionary spending at about $1.01 trillion for this fiscal year, higher than the $967 billion required in a 2011 budget plan. The deal raises fees including on airline passengers, and is projected to cut the deficit by $23 billion over 10 years.

The plan also leaves the door open to a possible fight over raising the debt limit as U.S. borrowing authority is set to lapse in February.

With primary opponents waiting in the wings, some Republican lawmakers are finding it difficult to support even such a limited deal.

McConnell’s primary opponent in Kentucky, Matt Bevin, has been sending out daily news releases needling McConnell, who has been quiet about the deal since it was announced last week. “Where’s Mitch?” yesterday’s e-mail was headlined.

McConnell, a primary architect of the 2011 Budget Control Act, has long opposed spending in excess of that law’s limits.

Reduced Spending

“I remain convinced that the Budget Control Act has done what it was supposed to do,” McConnell told reporters Dec. 10. “We’ve reduced government spending for two years in a row for the first time since right after the Korean War. Many of us came to Congress to do just that.”

Cochran received similar treatment to McConnell in a dispatch yesterday from primary challenger Chris McDaniel.

“Mississippi taxpayers deserve to know if Senator Cochran will support this disastrous bill or if he will have the courage to vote against it,” McDaniel said.

Most Democrats, including those running in tight contests in 2014, are backing the plan as a step in the right direction on ending fiscal divisiveness in Washington.

Republican Cornyn is concerned about reversing spending cuts without changing entitlement programs, spokeswoman Megan Mitchell said in an e-mail yesterday.

Enzi said he opposes the agreement because “most spending cuts are scheduled for outlying years and the so-called ‘savings’ are used up right away. It isn’t real.”

Primary Outcomes

The Republican senators’ “no” votes will probably do little to alter the outcomes of their primary races, Gonzales said.

“These anti-establishment Tea Party groups are developing their targets, and I don’t know that one vote will cause a targeted senator to fall off their list or one vote will vault a senator onto their list,” he said.

“Their chances are more rising and falling with how credible the challenger is, or if there’s even a challenger, and with particular factors in the state,” he said.

Baker said, though, that the “no” votes will prevent the nervous lawmakers from suffering political damage as the start of the primary season approaches early in 2014.

“There are only so many sins they can commit that are unforgivable. They can only commit one,” he said. “They need to make a symbolic gesture of penance.”

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