Senate Passes First Budget In Four Years
For the first time in four years, the United States Senate has passed a budget:
WASHINGTON — After an all-night debate that ended just before 5 a.m., the Senate on Saturday adopted its first budget in four years, a $3.7 trillion blueprint for 2014 that would provide a fast track for passage of tax increases, trim spending modestly and leave the government still deeply in the red a decade from now.
The 50-49 vote in the Senate, which is controlled by Democrats, sets up contentious — and potentially fruitless — negotiations with the Republican-controlled House in April to reconcile two vastly different plans for dealing with the nation’s economic and budgetary problems. No Republicans voted for the Senate plan, and four Democrats opposed it: Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Kay Hagan of North Carolina, Mark Begich of Alaska and Max Baucus of Montana. All four are in red states and are up for re-election in 2014.
“The Senate has passed a budget,” Senator Patty Murray of Washington, the Senate Budget Committee chairwoman, declared at 4:56 a.m.
The House plan ostensibly brings the government’s taxes and spending into balance by 2023 with cuts to domestic spending even below the automatic “sequestration” levels roiling federal programs now, and it orders up dramatic and controversial changes to Medicare and the tax code.
The Senate plan, by contrast, includes $100 billion in upfront infrastructure spending to goose the economy and calls for special fast-track rules to overhaul the tax code and raise $975 billion over 10 years in legislation that could not be filibustered. Even with that tax increase and prescribed spending cuts, the Senate plan would leave the government with a $566 billion annual deficit in 10 years, and $5.2 trillion in additional debt over that window.
“The first priority of the Senate budget is creating jobs and economic growth from the middle out, not the top down,” Ms. Murray said. “With an unemployment rate that remains stubbornly high, and a middle class that has seen their wages stagnate for far too long, we simply cannot afford any threats to our fragile recovery.”
Republicans were harshly dismissive of the Democrats’ priorities.
“Honest people can disagree on policy, but where there can be no honest disagreement is the need to change our nation’s debt course,” said Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama, the committee’s ranking Republican. “The singular truth that no one can escape is that the House budget changes our debt course while the Senate budget does not.”
Passage of the competing budget plans does advance a more orderly budget process after nearly three years of crises and brinkmanship. If House and Senate negotiators can agree on a framework for overhauling the tax code and entitlement programs like Medicare, Congress’s committees could go to work on detailed legislation, possibly under special rules that protect the bills from a Senate filibuster.
If the negotiations prove fruitless, the next budget crisis looms this summer when Congress must again raise the government’s statutory borrowing limit or risk defaulting on the federal debt. House Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio on Thursday revived a rule — breached in January — that any increase in the debt ceiling must be accompanied by equivalent spending cuts.
The ordinary process from this point forward from this point would be for each House to appoint members to a Conference Committee that would be tasked with ironing out the differences between the two budgets, if they can. It’s unclear if that will be done in this case, but it would seem to me the way to go. At the very least, I suppose we should be glad that they finally did what it’s supposed to do.