December 15, 2013, 04:00 pm
In budget deal, a secret reward for Dems
By Erik Wasson
The two-year budget deal approved by the House has hidden political benefits for Senate Democrats, Republicans charge.
Because it sets a top-line budget number for 2015, Democrats won’t have to write and pass a budget resolution in the midterm election year.
That means vulnerable Democrats like Sens. Mark Pryor (Ark.), Mark Begich (Alaska), Kay Hagen (N.C.) and Mary Landrieu (La.) won’t have to take tough votes as part of a budget vote-o-rama.
Republicans are unhappy, as they believe the tough votes would have made it easier to defeat those candidates next fall and take control off the Senate in 2015. With ObamaCare's difficult rollout, forcing members to vote on many aspects of the healthcare law would be especially appealing.
The Senate is expected to vote on the budget deal on Tuesday.
Until this spring, when the Senate approved its first budget resolution in four years, Senate Democrats had repeatedly avoided passing a budget in part because of the problems it would have created for vulnerable members.
In two of the years in which the Senate failed to pass a budget, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) argued budget caps in the 2011 Budget Control Act law meant no resolution was legally necessary.
Republicans said Reid was wrong then, and he’d be wrong now if he used the new bill to avoid a budget vote.
“Yes we should do a budget every year and the Budget Control Act was used as an excuse and it was a poor excuse,” Senate Budget Committee Ranking Member Jeff Sessions told The Hill on Friday. “It seems to me it would be the same with this.”
At this point, Democrats aren’t committing to doing a new budget.
Eli Zupnick, a spokesman for Senate Budget Committee Chairman Patty Murray (D-Wash.), said she “certainty plans to continue the budget process next year and hopes that Democrats and Republicans can build on the bipartisan work done in the budget conference.”
“One of the benefits of this bipartisan budget deal is that Congress can move away from the constant crises and return to regular order,” he added. “Right now she is focusing on passing this budget deal. Once that’s done she will work with other members of the committee on the path forward for the FY15 budget.”
A source argued that the deal allows the 12 appropriations bills for 2015 to move forward and that will open up the chance for tough votes on the floor.
House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) at this stage is committing to doing a budget resolution, his office said, even though it will likely put his conference on record again supporting controversial cuts to Medicare in an election year.
When Senate Democrats brought this year’s budget to the floor, Republicans offered hundreds of amendments. Many of them were controversial and were meant to force Democrats into tough votes, such as backing tax increases.
Four vulnerable Democrats — Pryor, Hagan, Begich and Sen. Max Baucus (Mont.), who decided against running for reelection — opposed the overall budget, which had nearly $1 trillion in new tax revenue. It squeaked through in a 50-49 vote.
Session said that the budget is a unique opportunity because the majority leader cannot use a procedural tactic known as filling the amendment tree to block amendments.
“It's the only time in the entire legislative process by which individual senators can get a vote on an amendment they care about because of this unprecedented filling of the tree keeps anybody from getting an amendment,” he said.
Sessions is also unhappy about another aspect of this year’s budget deal.
It would suspend a procedural point of order in the Senate against using revenue increases to offset new spending in the coming fiscal year.
That point of order has been used several times recently by Republicans to stop revenue-raising legislation.
Defenders of the deal argue that Republicans can still use the filibuster against a tax increase, though they acknowledge the point of order has been weakened in the deal.