Sunday, March 9, 2014
By LISA MASCARO McClatchy Newspapers
WASHINGTON - Democrats in the Senate were poised Friday night to pass a 10-year budget blueprint, but not without a late-night frenzy of amendments.
Like the austere Republican budget passed this week in House, the Democratic version in the Senate is a partisan document that sets out the party's vision but does not have the force of law. It would raise taxes on corporations and the wealthy, while investing the new revenue to build infrastructure and tamp down the deficit.
The two proposals will serve as calling cards in continued talks with the White House over a deficit-reduction plan. The Republican plan stakes out a position far to the right of President Obama's views on the budget, and the Democratic one falls to his left.
"While there are clear areas of disagreement about how to strengthen our economy and restore our nation's fiscal health," said Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., the chairwoman of the Budget Committee, "this was a productive conversation and one I hope we can build on in the coming weeks."
Additional supplies were brought into the Capitol late Friday -- wood for the fireplaces on a chilly spring day, packaged meals for the take-out shelves -- as senators hunkered down to vote into the night.
Under Senate rules, the budget debate offered senators an unusual opportunity to draw up an unlimited number of amendments to offer. And they did.
More than 400 amendments were filed, from the lofty to the parochial, including proposals to de-fund the nation's healthcare law, restrict domestic drone surveillance and prevent a bird called the sage grouse from being listed as an endangered species.
One senator, Tom Coburn, R-Okla., came up with 66 amendments by the time the sun set in the capital.
Senators in rapid-fire fashion presented their issues and then called for a vote. The usually lonely Senate floor was filled with senators and aides. The lawmakers began the debate knowing that the final vote would come only once they had nothing left to say.
Republicans celebrated the day, hammering Democrats for not passing a budget for four years.
"It's about time," said a one-line news release from the House Republican Whip, Rep. Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield, Calif.
Earlier in the day, senators tossed aside the House Republican budget drafted by Rep. Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin, which calls for deep cuts to the social safety net, including Medicare, and achieves balance in 10 years. Five Republican senators defected on their party's defining document.
Several Republican ideas to block money for Obama's signature domestic achievement, the new healthcare law, fell by the wayside on party-line votes. Democrats on Friday celebrated its third anniversary.