Hours later, they failed in an attempt to open the Arctic refuge to oil drilling.
The deficit-reduction bill imposes the first restraints in nearly a decade in federal benefit programs such as Medicaid, Medicare and student loans, according to the Associated Press.
Five Republicans joined all 44 Democrats and one independent to oppose the measure to create what would have been a tie. But Vice President Dick Cheney cast a tie-breaker vote to push the bill through.
“This is the one vote you’ll have this year to reduce the rate of growth of the federal government,” said Senate Budget Committee Chairman Judd Gregg, R-N.H., in a final plea for passage.
Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada countered that the GOP was advancing “an ideologically driven, extreme, radical budget. It caters to lobbyists and an elite group of ultraconservative ideologues here in Washington, all at the expense of middle class Americans,” he said, the AP reported.
Senate Democrats were able to force some minor changes, which means the House will have to vote on the modified bill in order for it to pass.
The House voted 212-206 in favor of the original measure on Monday. Because most members of the House have left Washington for the holidays, they would have to be called back into session for the new version of the bill to be passed this year.
Also Wednesday, Senate Democrats blocked an attempt to open part of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska to oil drilling.
After Republican leaders in the Senate added the ANWR drilling measure to a larger defense bill, Senate Democrats led an effort to hold open debate, paving the way for a possible filibuster to block the bill. Republicans needed 60 votes to stop debate on the bill and force a vote, but fell four votes short.
Most Senate Democrats are opposed to the ANWR drilling plan, claiming it would have a detrimental impact on the environment.
President Bush and most Republicans, including Alaska Sens. Ted Stevens, R, and Lisa Murkowski, R, support drilling in ANWR to lessen U.S. reliance on foreign oil.
The area of the Arctic coastal plain outlined in the ANWR measure is estimated to contain some 10 billion barrels of oil.
“Higher energy costs are squeezing family budgets, undermining farms and small businesses, jeopardizing jobs, and threatening the long-term health of our economy,” Murkowski said in a statement on Tuesday. “It’s time to both accelerate energy conservation efforts and to produce more energy in this country. Limited oil exploration in the Arctic Coastal Plain will improve our energy independence and strengthen our energy security.”
Senate Democrats disagreed, saying a relatively small amount of oil could be harvested from ANWR, and that drilling would devastate the area.
“Destroying this wilderness will do very little to reduce energy costs nor does it do very much for oil independence,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.