Only one caucus emerged unified from last week’s shutdown showdown, but even Senate Democrats will be challenged by the tough negotiations ahead.
The $38 billion package of budget cuts enacted last week splintered House Republicans, Senate Republicans and House Democrats — but only four members of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s flock voted against the bill: Sens. Patrick Leahy (Vt.), Bernie Sanders (Vt.), Carl Levin (Mich.) and Ron Wyden (Ore.).
Democratic aides argued the Senate Democrats’ unity is a sign of just how successful the Nevada Democrat was in negotiating for his Conference’s priorities and said it will help him with the debt limit. The final deal stripped the most significant riders, such as defunding the health care law, and protected Democratic spending priorities, including health care research and Head Start.
The high-profile final fight over Planned Parenthood won by Reid helped rally liberals to the bill, while moderates were happy to be voting for cuts with the record deficit growing as an issue.
“He knows his caucus,” a Democratic leadership aide said. “He knows what they will and won’t support, what they absolutely don’t want and what they will swallow.”
Democratic Conference Vice Chairman Charles Schumer (N.Y.) even needled Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) on Thursday before the House voted on the package.
“Speaker Boehner needs Democrats to pass this year’s CR,” he said. “He will need them to pass a long-term deficit reduction plan as well. The sooner he abandons the tea party, the sooner we can have a compromise.”
But the Democratic unity in the floor vote and Schumer’s bravado papers over real splits within the Democratic Conference as Congress enters the more consequential debate over the debt limit and the fiscal 2012 budget.
The vote on the CR “doesn’t matter,” one Senate GOP aide said. “Are they really beating their chest going into the debt limit? Especially with [Senate Minority Leader] Mitch McConnell [R-Ky.] threatening to force Democrats to carry the water here? I don’t think Sen. Schumer should be all that confident.”
Indeed, those four Democratic defections make it technically true that Reid needed Republican votes to pass the CR in a 53-47 chamber.
Other Republicans pointed out that Reid ultimately had to give in to a far larger package of cuts than he originally sought.
“We were happy to see Democrats reject their leaders’ rhetoric that reducing Washington spending was ‘draconian’ and ‘extreme,’” McConnell spokesman Don Stewart said.
A senior House GOP aide pointed out that the original CR written by Democratic leaders, which contained only minimal cuts, flopped on the Senate floor.
“Senate Democrats are so riven and split that when they tried to write their own CR, it got fewer votes than the ‘extreme’ cuts in House Republicans’ H.R. 1,” the aide said.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., carries a musket on stage as he speaks during the American Conservative Union's Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor, Md., on Thursday March 6, 2014.