Senate Pulls All Nighter, Passes Budget

Senate Pulls All Nighter, Passes Budget

For the first time since 2009, the Senate passed a budget after a marathon session that lasted until about 5:00 am ET this morning.  The vote was a squeaker:  50-49. 

All 45 Republicans and four Democrats voted against the $3.7 trillion 10-year plan (FY2014-2023).  The four Democrats were Mark Pryor (Arkansas), Kay Hagan (North Carolina), Mark Begich (Alaska) and Max Baucus (Montana).   A fifth Democrat, New Jersey’s Frank Lautenberg, did not vote.

The Senate budget plan would reduce, but not eliminate, the deficit over the next 10 years by a combination of spending cuts and tax increases.   The spending cuts do not include the sequester.  Although attention has focused on the effects of the sequester for this year (FY2013) — for which it remains in place — pursuant to the Budget Control Act of 2011 it lasts until FY2021.

The House version of the budget resolution, which passed two days ago, is completely different from the Senate’s version.  It balances the budget over 10 years through spending cuts alone.  Many agency budgets would be reduced even below the level required by the sequester.   It also passed by a close margin, 221-207, with  211 Republicans in favor, 197 Democrats and 10 Republicans against, and three Democrats and one Republican not voting.

In theory, the two chambers would now negotiate a single compromise version to govern spending decisions on both sides of Capitol Hill.  Because the two are so different, however, few expect it to happen and each will adhere to its own version.   Budget resolutions set top-line spending levels for the government divided into about 20 different categories of federal spending called budget functions (e.g., “national defense” or “general science, space, and technology”) rather than on an agency-by-agency basis.  The funding figures in the budget resolutions are then allocated to the 12 appropriations subcommittees based on their jurisdiction, and those subcommittees recommend more specifically how the money should be spent.

The vote is a victory for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid who was been strongly criticized by Republicans for his inability to pass a budget in four years.   Pundits are saying that several vulnerable Democrats who are up for reelection in 2014 may be hurt by their votes in favor of the package, especially since it does not balance the budget.  Senator Patty Murray (D-Washington), chair of the Senate Budget Committee that produced the budget resolution, argues that it is balanced in a different way — between spending cuts and tax increases, instead of using only cuts to reduce the deficit like the House.



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