Emboldened by winning the shutdown showdown over homeland security, and poised to triumph on raising the debt limit, Senate Democrats set their sights Thursday on the budget sequesters, demanding that Republicans hike taxes and raise spending.
It was a shot across the bow for Republican budget writers, who are set to unveil their proposals next week, which are expected to further slash spending and balance the budget in 10 years — slowing the growth of runaway national debt that currently tops $18 trillion.
Senate Democrats insisted that keeping the automatic spending cuts would jeopardize the economic recovery, hurt the middle class and weaken the U.S. military. And they warned Republicans that President Obama will reject any budget sent to him that does not increase spending on both defense and domestic programs.
“The president has been very clear: He will not accept a budget that locks in sequester, and he will not accept a budget that severs that vital link between defense and nondefense spending,” said Shaun L.S. Donovan, the director of the president’s Office of Management and Budget, who joined Democrats at a Capitol Hill press conference to make the demands.
Mr. Donovan boasted that the spending scheme supported by Mr. Obama and his Democrats makes investments in infrastructure, manufacturing and education.
“These investments are more than paid for with smart spending cuts, program integrity measures and common-sense tax loophole closures,” he said.
The hallmark of the Democrats’ plan was increasing spending by equal amounts for both defense and nondefense programs, which was the same formula used in Mr. Obama’s budget proposal last month.
“The cuts on both sides of the ledger — on defense and nondefense — are harmful, unnecessary and avoidable with just a little bit of cooperation from some of our colleagues,” said Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat and his party’s No. 3 leader in the Senate, who led the press conference.
Based on news reports about budgets being drafted by the Republican majorities in both chambers, Mr. Schumer said the spending levels would “tighten the noose around our economic recovery.”
“They are preparing to take a meat cleaver to programs that create jobs through infrastructure and scientific research, as well as programs within the Defense Department that keep us safe,” he said. “Rather than taking a scalpel to cut out wasteful spending or working with Democrats to find revenue by closing egregious loopholes, Republicans would rather lop the top off programs that create jobs and grow the economy.”
Building on their success stoking fears of terror attacks to win the fight over funding the Department of Homeland Security, the Democrats stressed that the sequester would undermine the military and the U.S. ability to confront terrorists.
“Sequestration is an enemy of our nation in two important ways,” said Sen. Claire McCaskill, Missouri Democrat. “First, it compromises our national security because it handcuffs our ability to fund our military. The second way that sequestration is an enemy to our country is in our competitiveness. We must be able to compete globally, and to compete globally we must be able to invest in research and technology.”
Without divulging details of their plan, a GOP aide said that the Republican budget will address many of the issues raised by Mr. Schumer and Mr. Donovan.
The Democrats’ proposals closely mirrored Mr. Obama’s budget for 2016, which included a slew of tax hikes, mostly on Wall Street transactions and businesses.
Under Mr. Obama’s budget, eliminating the sequester would add $42 billion to discretionary spending in fiscal 2016 and add $371 billion over the next decade, as well as cancel $120 billion in automatic cuts to entitlements such as Medicare, according to a new analysis by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.
Overall, the CBO said Mr. Obama’s 2016 budget would pile up another $6 trillion in deficits over 10 years, growing the national debt to $24 trillion.
Republicans have steadfastly opposed Mr. Obama’s spending plan.
House Committee on the Budget Chairman Tom Price said the CBO analysis confirmed that Mr. Obama’s budget is “not a serious proposal to solve our nation’s fiscal and economic challenges.”
“The president continues to rely on job-destroying tax hikes to fuel more reckless spending in Washington. And despite taking over $1 trillion dollars more out of the pockets of hard-working Americans, the president’s budget will add an additional $6.7 trillion to the national debt over the next ten years and never, ever balance,” the Georgia Republican said.
“His policies, and the debt they create, are standing in the way of a healthier economy and degrading the American people’s trust in the ability of policymakers to tackle tough challenges,” said Mr. Price. “Soon House Republicans will release a balanced budget that embraces America’s innovative spirit to grow our economy and make the responsible decisions needed to reform government so it is more efficient, effective and accountable to American taxpayers.”
Sequestration initially called for about $1 trillion in cuts from 2013 to 2021. Some cuts were canceled as part of a 2014 budget deal by Senate Democrats and House Republicans.
The automatic cuts came about as a result of the 2011 debt-ceiling battle, which was settled with the Budget Control Act and a “supercommittee” tasked with cutting at least $1.5 trillion from the federal budget.
As an incentive to force the bipartisan committee to make a deal, the legislation called for automatic spending cuts or the sequester if the “supercommittee couldn’t reach a deal. No deal was made, and the cuts began in March 2013.
The sequester has always been unpopular with lawmakers, though the automatic across-the-board cuts did significantly reduce deficits.