Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) backed off their objections against a continuing resolution Wednesday morning, clearing a hurdle that could have doomed a stopgap measure aimed at preventing a government shutdown.
A Democratic Senate leadership aide said Wednesday the Senate can now open up debate on the CR, introduced by Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-Md) and ranking member Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.). Their bill attempts to soften the blow of the $85 billion sequestration for defense and domestic agencies by giving them more flexibility to reallocate the across-the-board cuts.
The legislation would provide numerous departments, including agriculture, commerce, homeland security, justice, defense and veterans affairs with the ability to shuffle around cash to preserve critical functions of each agency.
"We must prevent a government shutdown," Mikulski said in a prepared statement. "Senator Shelby and I worked together on this bipartisan agreement that avoids a shutdown, complies with the Budget Control Act, improves the House CR for many critical priorities, and lets us wrap up fiscal year 2013 so we can get to next year's budget and find a balanced solution to sequester."
Sens. McCain and Coburn put a hold on the CR late Tuesday because they feared the 587-page bill was packed with bloated government waste including $65 million for Pacific coast salmon restoration, $154 million for the military to develop alternative energy programs and more than $990,000 in grants to dig private wells for private property owners.
A spokesman from McCain's office said that McCain and Coburn have read through the bill and released their hold. The two may still introduce amendments to curb what they perceive to be out of control spending provisions in the bill.
"Offering amendments to improve bills of this size and importance is not just our privilege but our responsibility," Coburn said. "The American people have a right to know how we intend to use their tax dollars. The inconvenience we may feel as senators as we cast tough votes is nothing compared to the struggles millions of families in America experience each day because of our failure to manage their resources wisely."
The Senate legislation includes numerous appropriations bills for domestic agencies and defense programs. The House version, on the other hand, which passed out of the chamber two weeks ago, includes appropriations bills for the DoD and the VA.
After the Senate passes its bill, which is expected to happen this week, lawmakers will kick it back to conference to work out differences between the two chambers.
Although a gulf remains between the plans Republicans and Democrats on both sides have signaled that a government shutdown is not something they want to play chicken with.
That said, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) could still put a wrench in the negotiations. He indicated on Twitter Wednesday he may cause havoc yet again for the upper chamber, referencing his filibuster last week of an Obama administration nominee.
— Senator Rand Paul (@SenRandPaul) March 13, 2013