Congress’ abil­ity to pass a bud­get grows more doubt­ful each year

House’s OK’D plan hits wall in Se­nate

The Washington Times Daily - - Front Page - BY STEPHEN DINAN

House Repub­li­cans pow­ered their 2013 bud­get through their cham­ber Thurs­day, mark­ing the high point for the $3.5 tril­lion spend­ing plan, which would have cre­ated a deficit of nearly $800 bil­lion next year.

That’s still bet­ter than al­most ev­ery other choice on the ta­ble: Pres­i­dent Obama’s bud­get would re­sult in a $1 tril­lion deficit next year, as would House Democrats’ plan. Even the bi­par­ti­san Bowles-simp­son frame­work and the con­ser­va­tives’ al­ter­na­tive would spill red ink next year and through­out the next five years.

Se­nate Democrats, mean­while, have said they won’t put a bud­get plan on the floor at all — mark­ing the third straight year Congress will go with­out a full blue­print for taxes and spend­ing.

In short, an­a­lysts and law­mak­ers say, the process is get­ting worse ev­ery year.

“It’s pro­foundly dif­fer­ent,” said Steve Bell, se­nior di­rec­tor of eco­nomic pol­icy at the Bi­par­ti­san Pol­icy Cen­ter, who as for­mer long­time staff di­rec­tor for the Se­nate Bud­get Com­mit­tee helped then- Chair­man Pete V.

Domenici craft bud­get af­ter bud­get in past decades. “We ac­tu­ally passed bud­gets, and we ac­tu­ally went to con­fer­ence, and we had rec­on­cil­i­a­tion. What’s hap­pened now — it’s kind of sad to see, re­ally.”

With­out a Se­nate plan, Congress will have no bud­get this year. That means no frame­work to shep­herd through changes to en­ti­tle­ments, and no ac­cess to the spe­cial bud­get rules that al­low those changes to pass with just a ma­jor­ity, rather than the usual 60 votes in the Se­nate.

“What it says is that peo­ple aren’t be­ing real se­ri­ous get­ting some­thing im­ple­mented. They’re more in­ter­ested in stak­ing out ei­ther Re­pub­li­can or Demo­crat po­si­tions on it, or Pro­gres­sive Cau­cus,” said Rep. Steven C. LaTourette, an Ohio Re­pub­li­can who cospon­sored the Bowles- Simp­son al­ter­na­tive. “They’re more in­ter­ested in mes­sage than pol­icy.”

The House GOP plan passed by a 228-191 vote, with 10 Repub­li­cans join­ing all 181 Democrats in op­po­si­tion. No Democrats voted for it.

It boosts de­fense spend­ing by eras­ing the au­to­matic cuts that went into ef­fect af­ter the fail­ure of last year’s su­per­com­mit­tee; cuts from the rest of dis­cre­tionary spend­ing, which funds ed­u­ca­tion, the en­vi­ron­ment and other ba­sic do­mes­tic needs; and al­ters Medi­care by mak­ing it com­pete with pri­vate plans that se­niors could then choose from, with a cap on gov­ern­ment spend­ing.

“Here in this cham­ber we are wit­ness­ing the grow­ing mo­men­tum of a new ap­proach — one that main­tains a crit­i­cal role for gov­ern­ment but ul­ti­mately puts the Amer­i­can peo­ple in charge, where they be­long,” said Bud­get Com­mit­tee Chair­man Paul Ryan, the Wis­con­sin Re­pub­li­can who wrote the plan.

Democrats, though, said they will make Repub­li­cans pay a po­lit­i­cal price for vot­ing to change Medi­care.

“It is all about choices,” said Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Mary­land, the rank­ing Demo­crat on the Bud­get Com­mit­tee. “Let’s not make the mis­take of pass­ing this Re­pub­li­can bud­get plan. We can do bet­ter. We can do what bi­par­ti­san groups have done — take a bal­anced ap­proach. Cut spend­ing, also cut the loop­holes for spe­cial in­ter­ests.”

Even though it lost 10 Repub­li­cans, the GOP plan did bet­ter than House Democrats’ al­ter­na­tive, which failed and saw 22 Democrats de­fect from their party.

Most strik­ing, though, was the fail­ure of the Bowles-simp­son amend­ment, which was de­signed to fol­low the plan drafted by for­mer White House Chief of Staff Er­sk­ine B. Bowles, a Demo­crat, and for­mer Sen. Alan K. Simp­son, a Re­pub­li­can, who led a high­pro­file deficit com­mis­sion in 2010.

Their pro­posal called for com­bin­ing spend­ing lim­its, in­clud­ing on en­ti­tle­ment pro­grams, with higher tax rev­enues — the kind of bal­anced plan many Democrats have said they want. For much of the past year, it was seen as the chief hope for a bi­par­ti­san so­lu­tion.

But in a floor vote late Wed­nes­day it was de­feated by a 382-38 vote — the worst show­ing for any plan save Mr. Obama’s, which failed 414-0.

In the deficit tally, House Repub­li­cans’ plan would lead to an ad­di­tional $3.1 tril­lion in red ink over the next decade; Mr. Obama’s plan would notch more than $6 tril­lion in deficits, as would Democrats’ al­ter­na­tive; a con­ser­va­tive GOP op­tion would do best at slightly less than $1 tril­lion; and the Bowles-simp­son plan would have led to an ad­di­tional $4.5 tril­lion in deficits.

Among the 38 sup­port­ers for Bowles-simp­son were 22 Democrats and 16 Repub­li­cans, who said they faced a bar­rage of at­tacks from lobby groups on both sides of the aisle.

“The fax ma­chines and emails lit up here around 6 p. m. [ Wed­nes­day] night,” Mr. Latourette said.

House Mi­nor­ity Leader Nancy Pelosi, a Cal­i­for­nia Demo­crat who voted against it, said she had thought about sup­port­ing it, but that the final ver­sion of the amend­ment didn’t hew closely enough to the ac­tual BowlesSimp­son com­mis­sion re­port.

The mea­sure did have the back­ing of Mr. Bowles and Mr. Simp­son.

House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Re­pub­li­can, said he sup­ported the bi­par­ti­san group’s right to of­fer a plan, but wasn’t sur­prised they had dif­fi­culty win­ning votes.

“They were do­ing it in the mid­dle of a pretty heated philo­soph­i­cal de­bate about which is the best way for­ward. And while they may have been work­ing with each other, I don’t know how much reach­ing out they were do­ing to garner more votes,” Mr. Boehner said.

Mr. Bell said the 38-vote to­tal was “dis­cour­ag­ing,” but said there are mem­bers of the House from both par­ties who would work on a bi­par­ti­san plan if given the chance.

“In my view, there are prob­a­bly 160 votes in the House if there were no con­se­quences to your fu­ture lead­er­ship am­bi­tions or no con­se­quences to what chair­man­ship of a com­mit­tee or sub­com­mit­tee you would get,” he said.

De­spite the small level of sup­port, Rep. Robert E. An­drews, New Jer­sey Demo­crat and an­other backer of the Bowles-simp­son plan, said he sees the be­gin­nings of a break­through. He pointed to the range of law­mak­ers who voted for it: Rep. James E. Cly­burn of South Carolina, the third-rank­ing Demo­crat in the cham­ber, sup­ported it, as did Rep. Cyn­thia M. Lum­mis, Wy­oming Re­pub­li­can.

“It’s the build­ing block of an agree­ment we will even­tu­ally reach,” Mr. An­drews said.

Where oth­ers were pes­simistic, Mr. An­drews said he is op­ti­mistic be­cause of pres­sures that are likely to build dur­ing a lame-duck ses­sion of Congress this year: the need to pass an­nual spend­ing bills and raise the debt limit cou­pled with a po­lit­i­cal de­sire to ad­dress the ex­pir­ing Ge­orge W. Bush-era tax cuts and im­pend­ing de­fense cuts.


Rep. Paul Ryan, Wis­con­sin Re­pub­li­can, holds a copy of the GOP bud­get pro­posal dur­ing a news con­fer­ence Thurs­day on Capi­tol Hill.

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