- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 1, 2009

WASHINGTON (AP) - The Senate is making it tougher to pass the cap-and-trade legislation President Barack Obama wants as part of an effort to reduce global warming.

Lawmakers voted 67-31 on Wednesday to deny the legislation a filibuster-proof path through the Senate. That means 60 votes instead of a simple majority will be needed to pass the cap-and-trade proposal.

Republicans and Democrats are wary of Obama’s proposal to allow the government to auction permits to companies to emit greenhouse gases, with the costs of the permits being passed on to consumers.

As the minority party in the Senate, Republicans had feared that Democratic leaders would use filibuster-proof rules to push through the cap-and-trade legislation.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP’s earlier story is below.

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Senate on Wednesday voted to boost aid to Pakistan and increase funds for security along the U.S.-Mexico border, but rejected a Republican attempt to freeze spending on domestic programs.

As lawmakers continued work on a $3.5 trillion budget blueprint for the upcoming fiscal year, the Senate was poised to vote on whether to move quickly on President Barack Obama’s controversial “cap-and-trade” plan to combat global warming. The so-called fast-track procedure would allow Democrats to move the measure through the Senate without Republican votes.

The Senate was expected to reject the process.

By voice vote, the Senate approved a plan by Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., to add $550 million to the homeland security budget to protect areas along the U.S.-Mexico border from violent drug cartels. Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., won adoption of a $4 billion increase next year in aid to Pakistan, a key ally in the war against al-Qaida.

But Democrats easily rejected a bid by Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., to freeze domestic spending at 2008 levels. The vote was 58-40.

On the global warming effort, Republicans fear that Democrats will use filibuster-proof rules to push through the cap-and-trade legislation later this year. Under cap-and-trade, the government would auction permits to emit heat-trapping gases, with the costs being passed on to consumers via higher gasoline and electric bills.

Several moderate Democrats oppose the plan.

In the House, Republicans unveiled a budget plan that would gradually eliminate the traditional fee-for-service Medicare program, offering a stark _ and politically problematic _ alternative to blueprints offered by Obama and his Democratic allies.

The plan would have future Medicare beneficiaries _ people 54 and younger _ enroll in private health insurance plans and receive a subsidy on their premiums. Benefits would not be changed for people in the program or those 55 or older.

“If we don’t reform our entitlement programs, they go bankrupt and people’s benefits get cut automatically,” said Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, the top Republican on the House Budget Committee.

Democrats warned that the GOP proposal would result in sharply higher costs for the elderly as the value of the subsidy fails to keep up with health care inflation.

“If, in fact, the Republicans are achieving the ends that they say they are achieving, they do so by employing draconian means,” said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md.

Despite spending reductions, the House GOP plan projects permanent deficits exceeding $500 billion into the future, fueled largely by big tax cuts.

The GOP plan would offer a dramatically simplified tax code in which couples would have the option of a 10 percent rate on the first $100,000 of income, with a 25 percent rate thereafter, with the first $25,000 of income exempt from taxation. Singles could get a $12,500 exemption and a 10 percent rate on income up to $50,000.

Taxpayers could also opt to remain in the current system.

Democrats warned that the GOP plan would force draconian cuts to the program.

The GOP plan has no chance of becoming law, but offers voters a contrast between the rival parties. Republicans have complained that Obama’s $3.6 trillion budget for next year taxes, borrows and spends way too much. The White House and Democrats have labeled the GOP the “party of no.”

The GOP alternative emerged as the House began debate on a Democratic budget measure that largely tracks Obama’s plans, though not his exact assumptions such as limiting wealthier taxpayers’ ability to deduct mortgage interest, charitable contributions and other deductions.

Under Congress’ arcane budget process, the first step in enacting major legislation such as Obama’s plans to dramatically overhaul the U.S. health care system is to pass a nonbinding blueprint called a budget resolution.

Given the recession and the financial crisis, the budget outlook has become truly bleak, with the deficit for the current budget year expected in the $1.7 trillion range and the deficit for 2010 between $1.2 trillion to $1.4 trillion, depending on whether additional financial bailout funds are approved.

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