- The Washington Times - Friday, March 22, 2013

Saturday’s razor-thin, predawn approval of a spending plan in the Senate is being called a victory by Democrats — but Republicans emerged from the all-nighter with momentum on two key issues: deficit reduction and the Keystone XL pipeline.

The Senate passed its first budget in four years at the end of an exhausting, 13-hour “vote-a-rama” early Saturday, and before the debate was over, lawmakers from both parties had come together in support for the stalled Canada-to-Texas pipeline.

The Senate voted 62-37 on an amendment supporting Keystone, with 17 Democrats joining the chamber’s 45 Republicans.

The GOP also peeled off Democratic votes on the overall budget, which passed 50-49, with defections by four Democrats — all facing tough re-election campaigns in traditionally red states next year.

Citing concerns about spending and joining Republicans in voting no were Montana’s Max Baucus, North Carolina’s Kay R. Hagan, Arkansas’ Mark L. Pryor and Alaska’s Mark Begich.

“Alaskans expect us to finish the job and make this staggering deficit manageable,” Mr. Begich said. “Passing this problem off to our children is not an option.”

The budget, from Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray, Washington Democrat, calls for a “balanced approach” of $3.7 trillion in spending for fiscal 2014 and about $3 trillion in taxes, leaving a deficit of nearly $700 billion.

House Republicans, meanwhile, balked at new taxes in the spending proposal written by 2012 vice presidential nominee Rep. Paul Ryan that would balance the budget in 10 years.

Budgets are not signed into law, but provide a map for both the tax and spending committees to move forward, setting up potentially contentious negotiations in the weeks ahead.

“The best opportunity for reform that we have had in a long time will be in the next few months,” said Sen. Bob Corker, Tennessee Republican, calling on Democrats to overhaul entitlement spending that is driving the nation’s debt.

Yet the chambers are unlikely to divorce themselves from their irreconcilable principles on taxes and spending, the type of partisan deadlock that has prompted Washington to hop from one short-term budget pact to another in recent years.

President Obama will bring a third blueprint to the table, although Republicans already are needling him over its belated status.

“The president has again failed to follow the law requiring him to submit his budget by the first Monday in February,” said Sen. Mike Lee, Utah Republican, in his party’s weekly address. “In what clearly falls into the category of a day late and a dollar short, he announced he wouldn’t submit his budget until the second week of April.”

Budget debates provide senators wide latitude to offer nonbinding amendments, and it took the chamber from 3 p.m. Friday to the wee hours of Saturday to wade through 70 amendments, which forced lawmakers to let their constituents and colleagues know where they stand on top issues.

Lawmakers generated steady cross-traffic from the front of the Senate chamber to the cloakrooms at the back, while aides packed into the corners and shuffled paper with their bosses. Many lawmakers looked down at sheets to see what they were voting on before pointing up or down to voice their positions.

“Doing this has been a herculean feat,” Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, said on the floor while the clock ticked past 4:36 a.m.

The Senate approved a bipartisan amendment that calls on Congress to pass its budget every two years, instead of annually, a decision that seemed fitting amid the hectic display throughout Friday.

“Obamacare” played a dominant role in the vote-a-rama, with several amendments designed to either buttress or strip away the Affordable Care Act’s taxes and mandates. Many of the measures were defeated, such as an attempt by Sen. Deb Fischer, Nebraska Republican, to do away with the mandate that requires many employers to insure contraception.

Yet an amendment from Sen. Tom Coburn, Oklahoma Republican, to fix a quirk in the law that sends Medicare reimbursement funds away from some states and into places like Massachusetts received a thumbs-up from the chamber.

Mrs. Murray said her overall budget “cuts spending responsibly and calls on the wealthiest Americans and biggest corporations to pay their fair share,” placing an emphasis the nation’s economic recovery before all else.

“That is the kind of approach that is supported by the vast majority of the American people,” she said, “and the Senate stood strongly behind that.”



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