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Senate Democratic budget extends standoff with GOP
First Published Mar 23 2013 10:46 am • Last Updated Mar 23 2013 12:50 pm

Washington • 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, the vote let Democrats tout their priorities. Yet it doesn’t resolve the deep differences the two parties have over deficits and the size of government.

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At a glance

White House praises Senate-passed budget

The White House is praising the $3.7 trillion budget Democrats squeezed through the Senate early Saturday.

But spokesman Jay Carney isn’t raising too much hope for compromise with the GOP-led House, which previously passed a competing budget that makes deep cuts to social programs.

Carney says in a statement issued Saturday morning that the House budget — quote— “refuses to ask for a single dime of deficit reduction from closing tax loopholes for the wealthy and well-connected.”

He adds that President Barack Obama will work with both sides to see if there is an opportunity to reach a deal.

Although his major proposals are well-known, Obama has not yet released his budget for the coming year. That’s expected in early April.

Senate and House budget proposals compared

How the budget proposals by Senate Democrats and House Republicans stack up over the next decade:

———

Total spending

Senate Democrats » $46.5 trillion

House Republicans » $41.7 trillion

———

Total revenue

Senate Democrats » $41.2 trillion

House Republicans » $40.2 trillion

———

10-year deficit

Senate Democrats » $5.4 trillion

House Republicans » $1.4 trillion

———

National debt at end of 2023

Senate Democrats » $24.4 trillion

House Republicans » $20.3 trillion

———

Social Security

Senate Democrats » $11.3 trillion

House Republicans » $11.3 trillion

———

Medicare

Senate Democrats » $6.8 trillion

House Republicans » $6.7 trillion

———

Health, including Medicaid and the State Children’s Health Insurance Program

Senate Democrats » $6.6 trillion

House Republicans » $4.0 trillion

———

National defense

Senate Democrats » $6.0 trillion

House Republicans » $6.2 trillion

———

Income security, including housing assistance, cash benefits and food stamps

Senate Democrats » $5.6 trillion

House Republicans » $5.0 trillion

———

Interest on national debt

Senate Democrats » $5.2 trillion

House Republicans » $4.5 trillion

———

Veterans benefits and services

Senate Democrats » $1.7 trillion

House Republicans » $1.7 trillion

———

International Affairs, including foreign aid

Senate Democrats » $506 billion

House Republicans » $431 billion

———

Education, training, employment and social services

Senate Democrats » $1.1 trillion

House Republicans » $906 billion

———

Transportation

Senate Democrats » $919 billion

House Republicans » $801 billion

———

Agriculture

Senate Democrats » $205 billion

House Republicans » $196 billion

———

Natural resources and environment

Senate Democrats » $474 billion

House Republicans » $385 billion

———

Community and regional development

Senate Democrats » $268 billion

House Republicans » $88 billion

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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.

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 Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., who chairs the Senate Budget Committee. "But I am hopeful that we can bridge this divide."


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A day that stretched roughly 20 hours featured brittle debate at times. The loudest moment came toward the end, when senators rose as one to cheer a handful of Senate pages — high school students — who lawmakers said had worked 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 that until this year exceeded an eye-popping $1 trillion annually, and to the parties’ profoundly conflicting views.

"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.

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