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Senate poised to pass budget, even as GOP presidential candidates say 'no'

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By McClatchy Newspapers
Monday, Dec. 16, 2013, 6:51 p.m.

WASHINGTON — The Senate appears poised to pass and send to President Obama as early as Tuesday a two-year budget agreement, as lawmakers are eager to head home and show gridlock-weary constituents Congress can get something done.

Congress' average 2013 Gallup poll approval rating is 14 percent, its lowest level in the survey's 39 years. Senators and representatives realize the public is tired of the bickering and the gridlock.

That's a big reason the House of Representatives last week passed the budget deal in a bipartisan vote. There were growing signs the Senate will follow suit in a vote on Tuesday on limiting debate.

Democrats control 55 of the 100 seats and, if all go along, five Republicans will be needed. Among those expected to vote to cut off debate are Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Orrin Hatch of Utah, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and John McCain of Arizona.

Hatch's view is widely shared among that group. “This agreement isn't everything I hoped it would be, and it isn't what I would have written,” he said, “but sometimes the answer has to be yes.”

A lot of fellow Senate Republicans disagree. The vote will be closely watched as an illustration of a growing divide in the party, a split that could reverberate in the 2014 and 2016 elections.

Three Republican senators often mentioned as 2016 presidential candidates — Florida's Marco Rubio, Texas' Ted Cruz and Kentucky's Rand Paul — sharply criticize the deal.

Expected to vote no is Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. He has supported such agreements. However, in recent years he has been blasted by Tea Party groups for being too conciliatory.

Next year, he will have a Republican primary challenge from businessman Matt Bevin. Bevin has been endorsed by the Senate Conservatives Fund, a political action committee founded by former South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint. DeMint became president of the conservative Heritage Foundation.

They, as well as other more conservative Republicans, view the plan announced last week by Senate Budget Committee Chairman Patty Murray, D-Wash., and House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., as failing to stop a government spending spree.

Conservative interest groups are on the warpath, vowing to make voters remember lawmakers did little more than agree to a small-scale deal designed to send them home for the year without tackling bigger fiscal issues.

“This deal also exposes the true colors of several in the GOP establishment when it comes to protecting conservative principles,” said Jenny Beth Martin, national coordinator of Tea Party Patriots.

Defying the Tea Party is a risk a lot of Republicans are willing to take. House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio last week charged that many conservative interest groups lack credibility, and Gallup last week reported “for the first time, a slim majority of Americans say they have an unfavorable opinion of the Tea Party movement.”

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