- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Senate on Wednesday first rejected House Republicans’ broad spending-cuts bill, then turned around and defeated the much shallower cuts backed by Democrats and President Obama, and both sides said it constituted progress.

Together, the votes were designed to rule out the two options on the table — the GOP’s $57 billion in cuts and Democrats’ $4.7 billion — and to push lawmakers back to the drawing board to work on a compromise as they look to meet a March 18 deadline to avert a government shutdown.

“Today’s votes in the Senate demonstrate that Democrats and Republicans must come together to find common ground on a budget that cuts spending and puts us on a path to live within our means, but also ensures we continue to invest in our future,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said after the votes, which Democratic leaders said they hoped would prove to House Republicans that their deep cuts cannot pass.

But the Democrats’ plan won even less support, even though they hold a six-seat advantage in the chamber. Forty-two senators, all Democrats, voted for the plan, while 44 Republicans voted for the GOP plan. Both fell far short of the 60 needed for passage.

The key statistic, though, was the 14 senators — 10 Democrats, three Republicans and one independent — who voted against both plans, saying neither hits the sweet spot that a workable compromise will require.

“It was clear at the outset that neither proposal would pass,” said Sen. Jim Webb, Virginia Democrat and one of the dual “no” votes. “This piecemeal approach is destructive to the legislative process and does not further the ultimate goal of a continuing resolution that funds the government at a responsible level for the remainder of the fiscal year.”

Last year, Democrats failed to pass a budget or any of the dozen spending bills to fund basic government operations for 2011, leaving the bureaucracy running on stopgap spending for more than five months.

The debate in Congress now is how to fund the government through Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year.

The House passed a bill last month to cut $61 billion from 2010 spending levels, and $4 billion of that subsequently has been signed into law in a separate measure, leaving their proposed cuts at $57 billion.

Senate Democrats, though, say that bill would reduce federal funding for education and said the drop in government spending could cost hundreds of thousands of jobs.

Democrats countered with a proposal that cuts $4.7 billion from 2010 levels. The White House blessed that plan just hours before it went down to defeat in the Senate.

Senators on both sides of the aisle said they want the president to show more leadership, but the White House says Mr. Obama has been involved.

Mr. Carney said the president hosted Senate Democratic leaders at the White House Wednesday. He also said Vice President Joseph R. Biden, whom Mr. Obama tapped last week to head negotiations but who is on a trip to Europe, made calls to House Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.

It is not clear who will blink before stopgap funding expires March 18.

Using the same language, senators from both sides of the aisle said the competing vote takes away any excuses the other side had.

“Now that it has been defeated, Republicans have no excuses left. It’s time for them to work with us to on a responsible, long-term solution that funds our government for the rest of the year, makes responsible cuts and safeguards our fragile economic recovery,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat.

Sen. Charles E. Grassley instead saw a message for Mr. Reid.

“Today’s votes emphasize that there are no more excuses for the Senate majority leader,” the Iowa Republican said. “His proposal for a mere $4.7 billion in spending reductions is clearly not credible. It’s time for the majority party in the Senate to get real about the federal budget and lead an effort to pass meaningful spending reductions.”

In the meantime, House Republicans signaled this week that they’ll begin work on another short-term spending bill to keep the government open should a bill not pass by March 18. But Mr. Reid said Tuesday that he doesn’t want to continue funding the government in short bursts.

The House passed its bill on the strength of Republican votes, but only after a week of open debate, during which more than 100 amendments received recorded votes.

By contrast, the Senate — usually the more open chamber — has held a closed debate, and no amendments were allowed during Wednesday’s debate.

Of the 14 senators who voted against both plans, some opposed any cuts, while others thought neither plan went deep enough.

“We’re spending money we don’t have, borrowing more than 40 cents of every dollar we spend,” said Sen. Jim DeMint, South Carolina Republican, who opposed both options on the table. “Republicans need to fight to balance the budget in five years, and this plan doesn’t do that.”

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