Washington Digest: Five budget votes show political split

WASHINGTON – The Senate rejected five proposed federal budgets last week during a debate that confirmed the deep philosophical chasm dividing Democrats and Republicans over how to manage the federal books.

Senate Republicans forced the series of votes to highlight what they called the failure of the Democratic majority to pass a formal budget resolution since April 29, 2009.

Democrats argued that there is no need for a budget resolution since the 2011 Budget Control Act approved last August to raise the debt ceiling already caps spending for the next fiscal year.

Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, chided Democrats for failing to lead.

"They are in the majority. When it comes to proposing and supporting a budget, they are the party of no and the party of obstruction. Democrats are the party filibustering consideration of budget blueprints," Grassley said.

Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., countered that the Senate approved, 74-26, and President Barack Obama signed the Budget Control Act last August that reduces the deficit by $2 trillion.

"This is nothing more than petty politics. We should be focused on jobs and the economy. Instead, we are forced to spend hours debating something that already happened," he said.

None of the budget alternatives – including one that Republicans said mirrored President Obama’s budget proposal – received a single Democratic vote.

Senators from both parties voted against what was put forward as the Obama plan. It failed 0-99. Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., who is recovering from a January stroke, was not present.

Four Republican alternative budgets failed by varying margins. Two that sought dramatic reductions in spending failed even to garner a majority of the GOP caucus.

Most Senate Republicans backed two other proposals, including the House Republican budget authored by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis.

Four Republicans, Sens. Dean Heller of Nevada, Scott Brown of Massachusetts, and Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, both of Maine, voted against all the budgets.

Schumer criticized the Republican plans as being "extreme," targeting safety net programs for deep cuts.

"The only real difference between the four Republican budgets is how quickly they race to end Medicare as we know it," he said.

The Ryan budget failed, 41-58. Heller and Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., voted against it.

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., proposed a resolution to drastically cut spending to balance the budget in five years. The proposal included essentially eliminating the Departments of Energy, Education and Housing and Urban Development.

Paul’s proposal would, starting in 2014, shift seniors from Medicare to the health plan offered to federal employees. The retirement age would also be raised to 70 over the next two decades.

The Paul resolution failed 16-83. Reid and Heller voted against it.

DEFENSE AUTHORIZATION BILL APPROVED

The House approved a $642 billion defense authorization bill that would set spending targets and policy for the next fiscal year.

The bill would delay or reverse many of the cuts that the Pentagon has proposed as part of its effort to reduce defense spending by $487 billion over the next decade.

Obama has threatened to veto the plan, saying he has serious concerns that it would impede the Pentagon from executing its new defense strategy. The Senate Armed Services Committee plans to draft its authorization bill next week.

The House bill included language to block new rounds of military base closings. It also seeks to rein in efforts by the Air Force to sharply reduce the Air Guard and Air Reserves.

The bill also would block same-sex marriages on military bases.

Debate on the measure, which drew more than a hundred amendments, spanned two days. The bill was finally approved, 299-120.

Reps. Joe Heck, R-Nev., and Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., voted for it. Rep. Mark Amodei, R-Nev., did not vote.

HOUSE OKS DOMESTIC VIOLENCE ACT

The House voted to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act after removing Senate provisions that would cover gays and lesbians and expand visas offered to illegal immigrants who are the victims of domestic violence.

Congress has overwhelmingly backed the 1994 law when it has come up for renewal in the past. But this year was different.

While Democrats and Republicans support the basic program, which funds battered women shelters and other assistance for victims of domestic violence, they disagreed on efforts to expand or restrict the law.

House Republicans opposed expanding the law to cover gay, bisexual and transgender victims of domestic abuse.

House Democrats opposed restrictions on special residency visas now given to immigrants who are victims of domestic violence.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith, R-Texas, said the changes to the visa program would help prevent fraud and abuse.

Rep. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, said the burdensome procedural hurdles would "delay or deny protections" to abused immigrant women.

"I am dismayed to see that some could actually support legislation that provides protections for abusers rather than the abused," she said.

The bill was approved, 222-205. Amodei, Berkley and Heller voted for it.

Contact Stephens Washington Bureau reporter Peter Urban at purban@stephensmedia.com or at 202-783-1760.

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