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Senate Democratic budget extends standoff with GOP

 

ALAN FRAM,
Associated Press

 

WASHINGTON
(AP) — An exhausted Senate gave pre-dawn approval Saturday to a Democratic $3.7
trillion budget for next year that embraces nearly $1 trillion in tax increases
over the coming decade but shelters domestic programs targeted for cuts by
House Republicans.

While
their victory was by a razor-thin 50-49 vote, it allowed Democrats to tout
their priorities. Yet it doesn’t resolve the deep differences the two parties
have over deficits and the size of government.

Joining
all Republicans voting no were four Democrats who face re-election next year in
potentially difficult races: Sens. Max Baucus of Montana, Mark Begich of
Alaska, Kay Hagan of North Carolina and Mark Pryor of Arkansas. Sen. Frank
Lautenberg, D-N.J., did not vote.

White
House spokesman Jay Carney praised the Senate plan, saying in a statement it
“will create jobs and cut the deficit in a balanced way.”

While
calling on both sides to find common ground, Carney did not hold out much hope
for compromise with Republicans. The rival budget passed by the GOP-led House
cuts social programs too deeply, he said, and fails “to ask for a single
dime of deficit reduction from closing tax loopholes for the wealthy and
well-connected.”

The Senate
vote came after lawmakers labored through the night on scores of symbolic
amendments, ranging from voicing support for letting states collect taxes on
Internet sales to expressing opposition to requiring photo IDs for voters.

Final
approval came at around 5 a.m. EDT, capping an extraordinary 20 hours of votes
and debate. As the night wore on, virtually all senators remained in the
chamber, a rarity during a normal business day. But at that hour, most had
nowhere else to go.

The
Senate’s budget would shrink annual federal shortfalls over the next decade to
nearly $400 billion, raise unspecified taxes by $975 billion and cull modest
savings from domestic programs.

In contrast,
a rival budget approved by the GOP-run House balances the budget within 10
years without boosting taxes.

That
blueprint— by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., his party’s
vice presidential candidate last year — claims $4 trillion more in savings over
the period than Senate Democrats by digging deeply into Medicaid, food stamps
and other safety net programs for the needy. It would also transform the
Medicare health care program for seniors into a voucher-like system for future
recipients.

“We
have presented very different visions for how our country should work and who
it should work for,” said Senate Budget Committee Chairman Patty Murray,
D-Wash.

The long
debate got testy at times.

As the
clock ticked past 1 a.m., Murray asked senators to show respect for colleagues
“who may not be able to stand as long as us, or who are elderly.”
Sen. David Vitter, R-La., shot back that Republicans were not trying to delay
anything, and wondered what flights or other appointments would be missed if
senators voted until 7 a.m.

The
loudest acclaim came toward the end, when senators rose as one to cheer a
handful of Senate pages — high school students — for their work in the chamber
since the morning’s opening gavel. Senators then left town for a two-week spring
recess.

Congressional
budgets are planning documents that leave actual changes in revenues and
spending for later legislation, and this was the first the Democratic-run
Senate has approved in four years. That lapse is testament to the political and
mathematical contortions needed to write fiscal plans in an era of
record-breaking deficits, and to the parties’ profoundly conflicting views.

Republicans
said the Democratic budget wasn’t much of an accomplishment. “The only
good news is that the fiscal path the Democrats laid out…won’t become
law,” said Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.

“I
believe we’re in denial about the financial condition of our country,”
Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, top Republican on the Budget panel, said of
Democratic efforts to boost spending on some programs. “Trust me, we’ve
got to have some spending reductions.”

Though budget
shortfalls have shown signs of easing slightly and temporarily, there is no
easy path for the two parties to find compromise — which the first months of
2013 have amply illustrated.

Already
this year, Congress has raised taxes on the rich after narrowly averting tax
boosts on virtually everyone else, tolerated $85 billion in automatic spending
cuts, temporarily sidestepped a federal default and prevented a potential government
shutdown.

By
sometime this summer, the government’s borrowing limit will have to be extended
again — or a default will be at risk — and it is unclear what Republicans may
demand for providing needed votes. It is also uncertain how the two parties will
resolve the differences between their two budgets, something many believe
simply won’t happen.

Both sides
have expressed a desire to reduce federal deficits. But President Barack Obama
is demanding a combination of tax increases and spending cuts to do so, while
GOP leaders say they won’t consider higher revenues but want serious reductions
in Medicare and other benefit programs that have rocketed deficits skyward.

Obama
plans to release his own 2014 budget next month, an unveiling that will be
studied for whether it signals a willingness to engage Republicans in
negotiations or play political hardball.

The
amendments senators considered during their long day of debate were all
nonbinding, but some delivered potent political messages.

They voted
in favor of giving states more powers to collect sales taxes on online
purchases their citizens make from out-of-state Internet companies, and to
endorse the proposed Keystone XL pipeline that is to pump oil from Canada to
Texas refineries.

They also
voiced support for eliminating the $2,500 annual cap on flexible spending
account contributions imposed by Obama’s health care overhaul and for charging
regular postal rates for mailings by political parties, which currently qualify
for the lower prices paid by nonprofits.

In a
rebuke to one of the Senate’s most conservative members, they overwhelmingly
rejected a proposal by Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., to cut even deeper than the House
GOP budget and eliminate deficits in just five years.

The
Democratic budget’s $975 billion in new taxes would be matched by an equal
amount of spending reductions coming chiefly from health programs, defense and
reduced interest payments as deficits get smaller than previously anticipated.

This
year’s projected deficit of nearly $900 billion would fall to around $700
billion next year and bottom out near $400 billion in 2016 before trending
upward again.

Shoehorned
into the package is $100 billion for public works projects and other programs
aimed at creating jobs.

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Associated
Press writer Andrew Taylor contributed to this report.

___

Follow
Alan Fram on Twitter: https://twitter.com/asfram

 

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.

 

 

 

 

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