WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Senate approved, 64-36, Wednesday a limited, two-year budget framework to diffuse the threat of another government shutdown and alleviate harsh budget cuts.
Nine Republicans sided with all 55 members of the Democratic Caucus, which includes two independent senators.
The agreement was overwhelmingly approved by the U.S. House last week, and it now heads to President Obama for his signature.
The framework sets top-line spending levels for the next two fiscal years at $1.012 trillion and $1.014 trillion, respectively. The GOP-led House and Democratic-led Senate had been unable to agree on spending levels, which helped provoke the 16-day government shutdown in October.
Working off the same budget levels will allow the House and Senate Appropriations Committees to move forward on the annual 12 spending bills that fund the government's discretionary spending, which does not include spending on mandatory programs like Social Security and Medicare.
"We have a heavy lift ahead of us--drafting, negotiating, and passing these bills in just over one month--but I am certain my colleagues on both the Senate and House Appropriations Committees are up to the task," House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers, R-Ky., said last week. The current stopgap funding bill runs out on Jan. 15.
The budget deal also alleviates $63 billion in across-the-board spending cuts known as the sequester by replacing them with other cuts and new government fees on airlines, new pension requirements for future federal employees, and a 1% reduction in cost of living adjustments to working-age military retirees. It also includes an additional $23 billion in modest deficit reduction over the next decade achieved by extending certain healthcare cuts through 2023.
The budget deal is one of the final legislative acts in what has otherwise been the most unproductive year on record for Congress.
The GOP-led House has already adjourned for the year, while the Democratic-led Senate is also working to wrap up a defense bill and a number of executive branch nominations before they adjourn for the holiday season.
The deal's negotiators, House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., and Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray, D-Wash., said they are hopeful this final act of bipartisanship will usher in a new era of cooperation in a divided Washington.
Murray said the deal could help "heal the wounds" of what has been a divisive and partisan year that led to the first government shutdown in nearly two decades and included a bitter and ongoing battle over the implementation of the president's health care law.
Congress will reconvene on Jan. 6 for the second session of the 113th Congress. An overhaul of the nation's immigration laws is the dominant piece of domestic legislation facing this Congress, while congressional Republicans are also angling for additional fiscal restraints in exchange for their support to increase the nation's debt limit. A vote is expected in the spring.