U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander said he will oppose a two-year budget agreement that cleared a key Senate hurdle on Tuesday and is expected to keep the government open through 2015.
The bill passed the Republican-controlled House of Representatives on Thursday in a 332-94 vote. It’s now being considered in the Senate, which is controlled by Democrats, and could win congressional approval this week.
“I will vote against the budget agreement because it avoids the federal government’s most urgent need: reducing the growth of runaway entitlement spending,” said Alexander, a Tennessee Republican. “Instead, it spends savings that should be used to strengthen Medicare, pensions, and the air transportation system.”
Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, a Tennessee Republican whose district includes Oak Ridge, supported the legislation last week.
Passage of the bill is likely to offer relief to federal employees and government contractors in Oak Ridge—and to the businesses that support them. Many reported impacts during the last partial government shutdown in October.
In a press release Tuesday, Alexander said the House budget bill would have been better if it had used a small part of the $1 trillion in entitlement savings that he and Sen. Bob Corker had identified in their “Fiscal Sustainability Act,” or with entitlement savings suggested in the president’s budget.
“Although I can’t support it, I appreciate the efforts of Rep. Paul Ryan and Sen. Patty Murray to bring certainty to the budget process, which is why I voted earlier today to allow a Senate vote on their agreement, which had passed the House with two-to-one Republican support,” Alexander said.
A Senate vote on Tuesday overcame a Republican filibuster attempt that required 60 votes in the 100-member chamber to proceed on the budget measure, CNN said. The vote count was 67-33, with a dozen Republicans joining 55 Democrats and independents in support of the plan.
In February, Alexander and Corker introduced the “Fiscal Sustainability Act,” S. 11, to reduce the growth of entitlement spending (Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security) by nearly $1 trillion in the next decade in order to improve the programs’ solvency, the press release said. That bill incorporates many of the recommendations made by President Obama’s Debt Commission (Simpson-Bowles) as well as by former Republican Sen. Pete Domenici and Alice Rivlin, budget director for former President Clinton, the release said.
The budget agreement approved by the House and being considered by the Senate eases spending caps for the next two fiscal years while softening the impact of across-the-board spending cuts, known as the sequester, on defense and non-defense programs.
Current federal spending expires in mid-January.
The last partial shutdown lasted from Oct. 1 to Oct. 17. It was generally regarded as being politically damaging to the GOP and had a significant impact in Oak Ridge, where the Y-12 National Security Complex had started an orderly shutdown and prepared to furlough up to about 3,600 workers. Officials at Oak Ridge National Laboratory had also started preparing for a possible temporary shutdown and unpaid furloughs.