March 23, 2013

Senate OKs Democratic budget

Maine's senators split their votes on the $3.7 trillion budget for next year, which embraces nearly $1 trillion in tax increases over the coming decade.

By 
ALAN FRAM The Associated Press

(Continued from page 1)

Fisheries assistance plan passed

BOSTON  — The U.S. Senate passed an amendment that would allow funds in next year's federal budget to be used to aid fishermen in the Northeast and elsewhere.

The bipartisan amendment, introduced by Massachusetts Democrat Elizabeth Warren and Alaska Republican Lisa Murkowski, was included in the Senate budget proposal that passed early Saturday.

It's uncertain whether the provision will survive budget negotiations before final legislation is passed. The House has passed a rival budget proposal and President Obama has yet to introduce his plan.

Warren's amendment came after a federal disaster was declared last year in several fisheries, including in the Northeast, where fisherman face massive cuts in 2013 groundfish catch allocations.

The Senate last year approved $150 million for fisheries assistance, but that measure died. Warren says disaster aid is critically needed by fishermen.

By sometime this summer, the government's borrowing limit will have to be extended again — or a default will be at risk — and it is unclear what Republicans may demand for providing needed votes. It is also uncertain how the two parties will resolve the differences between their two budgets, something many believe simply won't happen.

Both sides have expressed a desire to reduce federal deficits. But President Barack Obama is demanding a combination of tax increases and spending cuts to do so, while GOP leaders say they won't consider higher revenues but want serious reductions in Medicare and other benefit programs that have rocketed deficits skyward.

Obama plans to release his own 2014 budget next month, an unveiling that will be studied for whether it signals a willingness to engage Republicans in negotiations or play political hardball.

The amendments senators considered during their long day of debate were all non-binding, but some delivered potent political messages.

They voted in favor of giving states more powers to collect sales taxes on online purchases their citizens make from out-of-state Internet companies, and to endorse the proposed Keystone XL pipeline that is to pump oil from Canada to Texas refineries.

They also voted to voiced support for eliminating the $2,500 annual cap on flexible spending account contributions imposed by Obama's health care overhaul, and for charging regular postal rates for mailings by political parties, which currently qualify for the lower prices paid by non-profits.

In a rebuke to one of the Senate's most conservative members, they overwhelmingly rejected a proposal by Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., to cut even deeper than the House GOP budget and eliminate deficits in just five years.

The Democratic budget's $975 billion in new taxes would be matched by an equal amount of spending reductions coming chiefly from health programs, defense and reduced interest payments as deficits get smaller than previously anticipated.

This year's projected deficit of nearly $900 billion would fall to around $700 billion next year and bottom out near $400 billion in 2016 before trending upward again.

Shoehorned into the package is $100 billion for public works projects and other programs aimed at creating jobs.

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