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Posted at 7:13 AM ET, 02/21/2011

Five senators to watch during the budget fight

By Aaron Blake and Chris Cillizza

The House wrapped up a marathon session this week when it passed a bill in the wee hours of Saturday morning that would cut $61 billion from the budget while continuing to fund the government through September.

The vote was almost exactly along party lines, with no Democrat voting in favor and only three Republicans voting against.

Now we turn to the Senate, where the bill is going to change -- and likely significantly. That's because the Senate is controlled by Democrats, and the GOP-led House bill cuts a lot deeper than many Democrats are willing to go.

With government funding set to expire March 4, the Senate must act quickly to avert a shutdown. And there will be plenty of drama in that two-week span, including during the next week, during which the Senate is in recess.

To help you keep track of it all, we provide you with a list of five senators to watch, after the jump...

* Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) - The senator majority whip, who is otherwise a liberal's liberal, was a surprise vote in December for the big cuts proposed by a debt-reduction commission chaired by former Sen. Alan Simpson (R-Wyo.) and former White House chief of staff Erskine Bowles (D). Durbin could be a key ally for Republicans who are seeking bigger cuts than most Democrats want to stomach -- including on entitlements.

* Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) - Perhaps more than any other senator up in 2012, McCaskill has a fine line to walk. She's voted for most of President Obama's big priorities, but now she's got her future in a swing state to think about. She sounded open to significant budget cuts during an appearance on "Fox News Sunday" this weekend, but it will be interesting to see if she creates some distance between herself and her party.

* Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) - Despite facing an emerging challenge from his right, Lugar doesn't seem to want to play ball with the tea party. The latest example is his statement Sunday that he doesn't support the entire House bill. Lugar previously opposed a ban on earmarks, so he's shown a willingness to buck his party on such issues.

* Sens. Mark Warner (D-Va.) and Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) - These two are spearheading the "Gang of Six" effort to implement the Bowles-Simpson proposals, and their bloc -- which includes Durbin -- will be key in setting the terms of debate. If the six of them (three Republicans, three Democrats) come forward united on their proposals, their colleagues will listen.

RNC is $21.4 million in debt: The Republican National Committee released its January fundraising report on Sunday, and the committee is $21.4 million in debt.

The figure is under the $23 million debt figure the committee said it had in late January, but is still the biggest of any of the major party committees. The committee also said Sunday that a more up-to-date figure is $22 million.

The RNC owes debts to dozens of vendors, in addition to the $15 million in loans it has taken out.

It raised $5.7 million in January -- most of it during the half a month it spent under new Chairman Reince Priebus -- spent $4.3 million and had $2.1 million in the bank. That means the committee is more than $19 million in the red.

Priebus said he's working on repairing relations with big-dollar donors.

"I will continue to focus like a laser on running an efficient, transparent committee and rebuilding necessary relationships we need to win," he said in a statement. "And we will."

The Democratic National Committee, which released its numbers on Friday, raised $7.2 million for the month and was less than $8 million in the red, with $9.1 million cash on hand
and $16.8 million in debt.


Rep. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) plans to "actively consider" running for the seat being vacated Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D), Heinrich said in a statement. The congressman would be a top Democratic recruit; on the GOP side, former Rep. Heather Wilson has expressed interest.

A fundraising consultant to Rep. David Rivera (R-Fla.) collected at least $817,000 in fees since 2006. Rivera is under
investigation over allegations involving his mother's company.

An adviser to Chris Christie (R) is thinking about forming a federal political action committee because of the outpouring of interest in the New Jersey governor.

Connecticut state Sen. Scott Frantz is being recruited to run for retiring Sen. Joe Lieberman's (I-Conn.) seat.


"Does Mike Huckabee still want to be president" -- Karen Tumulty, Washington Post

"Deficits reshape the debate as Republicans jockey for 2012" -- Jeff Zeleny, New York Times

"Romney's past is more a working class zero" -- Josh Kosman, New York Post

"Ex-aide slams Palin in leaked manuscript" -- Emi Kolawole, Washington Post

"Snowe readies for 2012 race" -- Jonathan Riskind, Maine Today

By Aaron Blake and Chris Cillizza  | February 21, 2011; 7:13 AM ET
Categories:  Morning Fix  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Worst Week in Washington: The President's debt commission
Next: Can Ilario Pantano get to Congress?

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