- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 14, 2013

Forget passing a Senate budget. Senate Democrats and Republicans can’t even agree on basic numbers such as what it means to reduce the deficit by $1 trillion — a disagreement that underscored the difficulty of agreeing on a 10-year budget.

Sen. Patty Murray, Washington Democrat and chairwoman of the Budget Committee, argued Thursday that her new blueprint will reduce the deficit by $1.85 trillion over the next decade, divided equally between tax increases and spending cuts.

But Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, the panel’s ranking Republican, said she only reduced the deficit by $700 billion at best, since more than $1 trillion of her cuts and tax increases are used to replace the across-the board sequester cuts, which are already written into the law and counted by the Congressional Budget Office.

“You’re using the money twice,” Mr. Sessions said Thursday during an all-day meeting to debate and vote on the Democratic budget plan. “You’re providing cuts that you’re now telling me are used to pay down the sequester.”

Democratic staff counter that the sequester never was meant to be permanent, and that the House Republican budget uses similar math.

“We have a very big difference of opinion on the assumptions in this budget,” Mrs. Murray said.

She crafted Senate Democrats’ budget — which she hopes will be their first successful one in four years — and said it assumes a starting point back in 2011, when all sides said they wanted to reduce deficits by about $4 trillion.

She argues that year’s debt deal, and this year’s tax increases, already have made a $2.4 trillion dent in the deficit even before the sequesters, and so she needs to find close to $2 trillion more to meet her goal.

But Republicans argue the sequesters already are law, which means deficit reduction is already at $3.6 trillion — close to the $4 trillion target.

The numbers matter mainly because Mrs. Murray’s higher figure of $1.85 trillion stacks up well against House Republicans’ budget, while Mr. Sessions’ lower number makes the House budget look much more robust by comparison.

The Murray plan calls for $493 billion in domestic spending cuts — including $275 billion in health care savings — and $240 billion in defense cuts. It also is designed to save $242 billion in reduced interest payments.

Her plan also includes a $100 billion package designed to create jobs by repairing the nation’s crumbling infrastructure.

On the tax side, the Democratic proposal aims to generate almost $1 trillion in new revenue through reforms such as by closing tax “loopholes,” particularly from the nation’s most wealthy and corporations.

Despite the dispute, the Murray plan was expected to pass late Thursday or early Friday along a party-line vote. While it may enjoy the same fate when if reached the full Senate floor, the proposal would be dead-on-arrival in the Republican-run House.

The Senate hasn’t passed a budget plan since 2009. The budget committee approved a budget the following year, but Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, refused to bring it to the full Senate for a vote.

The House proposal, written by Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, Wisconsin Republican, cleared the chamber’s budget committee late Wednesday along a party-line vote. It calls for $4.6 trillion in spending cuts during the next decade and would repeal “Obamacare,” to be replaced by different system of health care reform.

The Ryan budget plan also is likely will pass the full House with a mostly partisan vote, though it also stands no chance in the Democratic-controlled Senate.

Stephen Dinan contributed to this article.

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