The U.S. Senate rejected a Republican plan to cut $61 billion from the federal budget, in a vote designed to pressure House Republicans to compromise in their push to slash government spending.
The chamber will vote next today on a Democratic proposal also likely to fail as the two sides remain far apart on the funding dispute.
Lawmakers defeated 44-56 a measure, approved last month by the Republican-dominated House, that would impose double-digit reductions on scores of programs. The Democratic plan calls for roughly one-tenth the amount of cuts.
Democratic Senate leaders intend for the votes to demonstrate to members, especially House Republican freshmen seeking big spending reductions, that neither party has the votes to impose its will.
“It isn’t often that two failed votes in the Senate could be called a breakthrough,” Senator Charles Schumer of New York, the chamber’s third-ranking Democrat, said earlier today. “Once it is plain that both parties’ opening bids in this budget debate are non-starters, we can finally get serious about sitting down and narrowing the huge gap that exists between the two sides.”
Current spending authority expires March 18, and lawmakers are negotiating over funding the rest of the government’s fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30.
Senate Democrats are pushing for savings in areas in addition to the domestic “discretionary” spending targeted by the House. Schumer said today that lawmakers should consider a surtax on millionaires, rescinding tax breaks for oil companies, and cuts in programs such as Medicaid. He and other Democratic leaders were to meet today with President Barack Obama at the White House to discuss their next move.
Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the third- ranking House Republican, said yesterday his colleagues are preparing a new stopgap budget measure that would buy lawmakers as much as another month to agree on spending through September.
Additional delays in reaching a budget agreement boost the odds that the debate will merge with a looming battle over raising the federal debt limit, which the Treasury Department said will be reached between April 15 and May 31.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, scoffed today at Democratic proposals to close the budget gap by raising taxes.
“Job-destroying tax hikes on small businesses and American families are not the answer to out-of-control Washington spending,” he said on the Senate floor. McConnell said yesterday he was prepared to force furloughs of government employees in order to reduce the deficit.
“The only entity in America that’s not sacrificing during this economic downturn is federal government workers,” McConnell told reporters yesterday. “We have largely insulated the federal government from this recession. And I don’t think that’s a good argument for not trying to get — to begin to get our fiscal house in order.”
Democrats are considering a “Wall Street tax” — an assessment of about one-tenth of 1 percent per stock transaction, Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio said yesterday.
“There is a growing understanding that revenue has got to be part of the discussion,” said Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, an independent who caucuses with Democrats.
Lawmakers are “still a ways from getting a long-term” agreement for the rest of the government’s fiscal year, McCarthy said yesterday at a breakfast sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor. He said any new stopgap measure would make additional cuts on top of the $4 billion in the temporary funding bill signed into law last week.
Senator Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat, accused Obama of failing to lead in the budget debate.
“When it comes to an issue of significant national importance, the president must lead — not the majority leader or the speaker, but the president,” he said on the Senate floor yesterday.
“He must sit down with leaders of both parties and help hammer out a real bipartisan compromise,” Manchin said, and so far “the most powerful person in these negotiations — our president — has failed to lead.”
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