Senate Rejects Competing Budget Plans Amid Spending Impasse

Representative Kevin McCarthy
Kevin McCarthy, a Republican Representative from California. Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg

The U.S. Senate rejected a Republican bid to cut $61 billion from the federal budget, as well as a competing Democratic plan, in votes aimed at pressuring House Republicans to compromise in their push to slash government spending.

Lawmakers defeated 44-56 a measure approved last month by the House that would impose an average of 14 percent cuts on the non-security “discretionary” portion of the budget. A Democratic alternative calling for a fraction of that reduction fell on a 42-58 vote.

Today’s votes were intended by Senate Democratic leaders to demonstrate to lawmakers, especially the Tea Party-backed freshmen in the House, that neither side has the votes to impose its will.

“They don’t have the votes to pass their package and it’s time to sit down and work out a deal,” Senator Patty Murray of Washington state, the chamber’s fourth-ranking Democrat, said of the House Republicans. “Nobody gets their way here.”

Senate Democrats unanimously opposed the House plan. Three Republicans who have stressed fiscal conservatism also voted against it: South Carolina’s Jim DeMint, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Mike Lee of Utah.

DeMint said the proposed $61 billion cut was too little. “We’re not even in the ballpark of where we need to be,” he told reporters.

Pressure on Democrats

The votes also likely will pressure Democratic leaders to compromise after their party’s plan was opposed by 11 members of their caucus. Some of the Democrats voting against the plan had expressed concern it didn’t make enough cuts.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said the votes “demonstrate that Democrats and Republicans must come together to find common ground on a budget that cuts spending and puts us on a path to live within our means, but also ensures we continue to invest in our future.”

House Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, following the votes reiterated his view that Democrats have been dragging their feet in engaging on the budget issue. “It’s time for Washington Democrats to present a serious plan to cut spending,” he said in a statement.

Temporary Spending Plan

Lawmakers may have to enact another temporary spending measure, to replace one now in place that expires March 18, to allow more time to work out a deal on funding for the rest of the government’s fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30.

Senate Democrats are pushing for savings beyond the discretionary spending reductions proposed by the House. Senator Charles Schumer of New York, the third-ranking Democrat, said lawmakers should consider a surtax on millionaires, rescinding tax breaks for oil and gas companies and cutting programs such as Medicaid.

Additional delays increase the odds the budget debate will merge with a looming battle over raising the federal debt limit, which the Treasury Department projects will be hit sometime between April 15 and May 31.

Some Senate Republicans who face potential primary challenges from Tea Party candidates in next year’s elections voted for the House bill, though they said they opposed parts of it.

‘Have to Move Forward’

“I don’t agree with everything in the bill, the priorities -- absolutely not -- but the point is you have to move forward,” said Maine Republican Olympia Snowe. Indiana Republican Richard Lugar said, “It’s better than where we are, even if it’s not the best of where we could be.”

Representative Allen West, a Florida Republican and a member of the House Tea Party caucus, said before the votes it would take “a lot” of persuading by party leaders for him to agree to less than $61 billion in cuts.

“Anything less than that is a heinous violation of the trust of the American people,” West said. “It is a question of leadership -- it is a question of can we truly prove ourselves to be fiscally responsible or are we just up here playing a game.”

Little more than an hour after the votes, each party’s campaign arm sent press releases targeting senators up for re-election in 2012.

“Astonishing,” said the headline on one such note to reporters from Democrats regarding Republican Senator Scott Brown of Massachusetts, who backed his party’s plan. “Scott Brown just voted to slash 17,000 Massachusetts jobs.”

Potentially vulnerable Democrats targeted by Republicans included Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri.

McCaskill “preaches fiscal responsibility when she’s back home in Missouri, but does the exact opposite in Washington, voting in lockstep with her liberal party leaders to spend money that our country doesn’t have,” Chris Bond, a spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said in a statement.

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