CHN: The Senate Rejects a Bunch of Budget Plans; Action on the Floor Still a Sideshow to Biden Debt Ceiling Negotiations

On May 25 the Senate took up four separate budget resolutions and voted them all down.  They included the budget plan that passed the House, two more proposals by Senators Toomey (R-PA) and Paul (R-KY) that cut even more than the House budget, and the Obama budget as released last February.
Under the Senate rules, if the Budget Committee does not report out a budget resolution by April 1, any Senator may introduce a budget and it must be taken up on the Senate floor, without being subject to filibuster.  Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) used this rule to bring up the House-passed budget (H.Con.Res.34), as a way of demonstrating its lack of Senate support.   It did fail by a 40-57 margin.  Republican Senators Snowe (R-ME), Collins (R-ME), Brown (R-MA), Murkowski (R-AK), and Paul (R-KY) joined Democrats in voting against the

House-passed plan, although Senator Paul did so because in his view it did not cut enough. The House budget would slash $4.3 trillion in needed services over ten years, about two-thirds of which are targeted to help low-income people.  It would sharply restrict spending in Medicaid (see article “Medicaid Program at Risk” in this issue) and SNAP/food stamps, by turning them into block grants.  After 10 years, it constricts Medicare spending by turning it into a voucher program that will eventually double the costs paid by beneficiaries.  It makes massive cuts in domestic appropriations as well.  At the same time, it slashes taxes by nearly $4.2 trillion, especially for high-end households and corporations.  Because the tax cuts are so high, there is relatively little left for lowering the deficit.  In effect, most of the drastic spending cuts would serve to pay for tax rate and other tax reductions overwhelmingly benefiting those with the highest incomes.  (For more about the House budget resolution, see article from the April 19 Human Needs Report, “The FY 2012 Budget: House Republicans Take Steps To Drown Government in a Bathtub; The President has Other Priorities.”)

Senator Toomey’s proposal (S.Con.Res.21), potentially even more damaging than the House plan, was rejected 42 to 55.  The Toomey plan does not touch Medicare, because it does not make recommendations beyond a ten-year period.  But it cuts safety net programs other than Social Security and Medicare by $3.8 trillion over the decade.  In 2021 these programs – including SNAP, TANF, Unemployment Insurance, and SSI – would be cut in half (a cut of $615 billion). Again Republicans Snowe, Collins and Brown voted against the proposal, as well as all the Democrats.  (For an analysis of the Toomey plan, see Center on Budget and Policy Priorities report).

A third budget proposal introduced by Senator Paul (S.Con.Res.20), claiming to go “further than Representative Ryan’s”, was voted down 7 to 90. Sens. Tom Coburn (R-OK), Jim DeMint (R-SC), Mike Lee (R-UT), David Vitter (R-LA), Orrin Hatch (R-UT), and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) joined Paul in voting yes.

President Obama’s original February budget request (S.Con.Res.18) also fared poorly.  All 97 Senators present voted against this resolution.  Senator Sessions (R-AL) introduced the President’s February budget to embarrass the Democrats.  The Administration’s budget did not include long-term deficit reduction measures in anticipation of recommendations to come later from the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform established by the President.  Since then, the Commission has reported out recommendations and the President delivered a speech outlining the revenue increases and spending reductions he would incorporate in a deficit reduction plan.  Three members did not vote on any of the budget proposals:  Hutchison (R-TX), Roberts (R-KS) and Schumer (D-NY).

The usual source of budget resolutions, the Senate Budget Committee, has decided to hold back on acting on its own plan.  Senate Budget Committee Chair Kent Conrad (D-ND) is anticipating that the eventual deal on increasing the debt ceiling will include deficit reduction measures and will take the form of a budget resolution.  So he is waiting until that deal is made in order to use budget resolution rules to pass it.  A budget resolution can be adopted in the Senate with a simple majority vote, because it cannot be filibustered.

The debt ceiling deal.  In its version of political point-making, the House is expected to vote on May 31 on a clean version of the debt ceiling increase, with no added deficit reduction measures.  It is being introduced with the blessing of the House leadership in order to demonstrate that a debt ceiling increase without spending cuts would not pass the House.  The real work of crafting such a deal continues under the auspices of Vice President Biden.  The bipartisan small group includes Senators Baucus (D-Mt), Inouye (D-HI), and Kyl (R-AZ), and Representatives Cantor (R-VA), Clyburn (D-SC), and Van Hollen (D-MD).  The group has been discussing a package of spending cuts totaling $1 trillion; so far the list has not been made public.  Vice President Biden made a public statement to insist that revenues must also be part of the group’s final agreement.  Inclusion of revenues has been strongly opposed by Republicans in both House and Senate.  Senator Kyl tried to call the Vice President’s support for revenues into question by quoting Biden as later saying “ ‘We have to talk revenues.’ He says, ‘You all understand why I have to say that.’ I said, ‘Yes, I understand why you have to say that.’ ”  (See Roll Call article here).  Advocates are troubled by that, and will seek continued assurances that the White House will push strongly for revenue increases as part of any debt ceiling negotiation.

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