The United States Senate has voted to end debate on a budget deal, virtually guaranteeing that the bill will soon be voted on and become law.
Last week the House of Representatives passed the deal that was hammered out by Democrats and Republicans desperate to prevent another government shutdown. On Tuesday afternoon the Senate voted 67-33 in favour to end the debate. The majority included all Senate Democrats who were joined by 12 Republicans. Republicans facing tough primary races in next year's mid-term elections notably voted against the deal.
"This bipartisan bill takes the first steps toward rebuilding our broken budget process. And hopefully, toward rebuilding our broken Congress," said the Democrat senator who helped negotiate the deal, Patty Murray.
In normal circumstances such a vote would have been utterly unremarkable. But since 2010 the US Congress has been so bitterly divided that it has been unable to pass budgets at all. Instead, government spending has been authorised by "continuing resolutions" that simply keep previous budgets in place.
As a result of the divide, halfway through its two-year term the 113th Congress has passed just 57 laws. By comparison the 112th passed 284, the 111th passed 385 and the 110th passed 460.
The deadlock has led to sweeping automatic spending cuts (known as sequestration), a government shutdown and threats by the right wing of the Republican Party to prevent the government from paying its bills - the so-called debt ceiling crisis. As a result Congress now enjoys a job approval rating of about 11.5 per cent.
The deal should prevent another shutdown from occurring over the next two years, though some Republicans, including Senator Paul Ryan, the former Republican vice presidential nominee who led the GOP's negotiations, have not ruled out using the debt-ceiling to extract more concessions from the White House next year.
Critics of the deal say it does nothing to solve the country's long-term debt, now standing at $17.6 trillion.
Its measures include the doubling of a fee that airline passengers pay to the Transportation Security Administration and a reduction in retirement programs for some federal employees and members of the armed forces. It does not provide for unemployment benefits to the 1.3 million Americans who have been out of work for at least 26 weeks. It also reduces the sequestration cuts.
The passage of the bill has been attacked by Tea Party-affiliated Congress members as well as many of the outside groups that back them, further highlighting division in the Republican Party.
Last week, after some of those groups attacked the deal before even seeing it, Republican House Speaker John Boehner publicly hit back at them for the first time, saying at a press conference: "They're using our members and they're using the American people for their own goals. This is ridiculous."
- Sydney Morning Herald