Congress Duels Amid Budget Debate Yield Campaign Attacks

U.S. lawmakers are using this week’s debate over each party’s fiscal priorities to generate fodder for 2014 congressional election attacks.

As they did in the 2012 campaign, Democrats intend to criticize the Republican-controlled House’s plan for balancing the budget in 10 years by cutting $4.6 trillion across a variety of programs and partly privatizing Medicare. Republicans will take aim at the Senate’s proposal to generate $1 trillion in fresh revenue.

The House voted 221-207 today to adopt a plan prepared by House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican.

“There is no question that these budget votes will be used in upcoming elections because they’ve been used in past elections,” Nathan Gonzales, political editor for the nonpartisan Rothenberg Political Report in Washington, said in an interview. “Both parties will try to use the issue to their advantage.”

Campaign groups are preparing attacks based on the non-binding budget plans being adopted this week, neither of which will be taken up by the other chamber. The National Republican Senatorial Committee yesterday sent out a release saying each of a dozen Senate Democrats seeking re-election in 2014 should oppose their party’s fiscal plan, asserting that it would have a devastating effect “on families and jobs.”

YouTube Ad

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee this week unveiled a YouTube ad listing House Republicans who lost re-election in 2012 after Democrats ran budget-related ads. The ad’s tagline: “2012 was just the beginning.”

Congressional budget resolutions offer ripe material for political messaging. The long-term budget plans don’t carry the force of law, so the votes on them are symbolic. Special Senate rules allow any member almost unlimited latitude to offer amendments to the plan, and many try to force votes that put the other party’s members in an awkward spot politically.

That’s one reason that Senate Democratic leaders haven’t brought a budget resolution to the floor since 2009.

In that year, lawmakers voted on 38 budget amendments; this week even more may be offered. Texas Senator John Cornyn, the chamber’s second-ranking Republican, said he may try to offer a proposal to withhold pay from the White House Office of Management and Budget’s director and other OMB officials when the president doesn’t submit a budget plan on time.

Obama hasn’t sent a fiscal 2014 budget proposal to Capitol Hill, though they usually are offered in mid-February.

‘Do Its Job’

“Texans don’t expect to get paid for a job they don’t do, and it’s time to start holding Washington to the same standards,” Cornyn said in a statement. “This administration should do its job, meet its obligations, and submit a budget.”

Among the amendments that Senator Ron Johnson, a Wisconsin Republican, said he plans to offer this week is a proposal to “make sure that no federal money is used to bail out states or municipalities that have gotten in financial trouble.”

“It’s important that Democrats get put on record as to whether or not they would actually spend federal taxpayer funds -- for example, the citizens of Wisconsin would be asked to bail out, for example, maybe the citizens of California or Illinois or New York,” Johnson said in an interview.

Six Senate Democrats seeking re-election next year in states carried in 2012 by Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney were among the dozen targeted by the NRSC yesterday. They are Alaska’s Mark Begich, Arkansas’ Mark Pryor, Montana’s Max Baucus, Louisiana’s Mary Landrieu, North Carolina’s Kay Hagan and South Dakota’s Tim Johnson.

Baucus Undecided

Baucus, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, hasn’t announced a position on his party’s budget. “I’ll decide that when I get there,” he said today in an interview.

Kansas Senator Jerry Moran, who heads the Republican Senate campaign group, said it would be paying close attention to the budget votes.

“Every vote you cast in Congress has a political consequence, and I’m sure the NRSC will be very capable of pointing out to folks in states across the country how senators voted,” Moran said in an interview.

In the House, Democrats say the budget blueprint proposed by Ryan, the party’s vice presidential candidate in 2012, would stunt U.S. economic growth and hurt minorities, women and the poor.

Top Earners

House Democrats yesterday offered a proposal to raise $1.2 trillion by limiting tax breaks for top earners and corporations. While the plan was defeated, it offered Democrats a chance to press Republicans to go on the record against tax increases for top earners while opposing $200 billion in defense spending cuts included in the proposal.

Democrats say they want to use Ryan’s budget plan as a platform to defeat Republicans in the 2014 midterm election.

“In plain English, it is bad,” Representative Joseph Crowley, a New York Democrat, said of Ryan’s budget during floor debate yesterday, comparing it with European-style austerity measures. He said it “kills 2.5 million American jobs” and “has no vision for how we are going to create jobs.”

Crowley said U.S. voters rejected Ryan’s budget in the 2012 elections. “It is time to say au revoir to this Republican budget,” he added.

Representative James Clyburn, a South Carolina Democrat, said “there is no question” that the Republican budget blueprint provides fodder for Democratic attacks.

Same Budget

“It is the same budget they ran on, the same one that got rejected by the voters,” said Clyburn, a member of the Democratic leadership. He said he “absolutely” will use the Ryan plan to campaign against Republican candidates.

House Republicans yesterday brought to a vote the Senate’s budget blueprint to try to force House Democrats to go on the record as backing it.

The National Republican Congressional Committee, the campaign arm for the chamber’s Republicans, on March 19 called on 10 House Democrats to “denounce” the Democratic budget or “hurt” the middle class in their districts. After the House vote today, it sent press releases accusing dozens of Democrats of voting against “the only plan to balance” the budget.

“Everything is a document for campaign in 2014 because this is a political arena and things get set up for that reason,” Representative Steve King, an Iowa Republican who is considering a 2014 Senate run, said in an interview.

Campaign Documents

“Yes, they will be documents for campaigns,” King said. “They already are.”

Budget blueprints “appeal to the base of each party,” said John Pitney, a political scientist and professor at Claremont McKenna College in Claremont, California.

Ryan’s budget plan, and Republicans’ support of it, was a major theme in 2012 Democratic campaigns for House and Senate seats across the country. The coming days could determine which party emerges with the upper hand on budget issues in 2014, Gonzales said.

“We’ll have to have the campaigns to see which side wins out,” he said.