$1 Trillion Tax Hike
An exhausted Senate approved its first budget in four years early Saturday, calling for almost $1 trillion in tax increases over the coming decade while sheltering safety net programs targeted by House Republicans.
Despite the fanfare -- and the spectacle of senators lingering for hours into the weekend to vote on dozens of amendments before the final tally -- the budget passed by the smallest of margins, 50-49. Four Democrats facing tough re-elections voted against it.
The resolution also stands no chance of passing Congress in its current form. The nonbinding but politically symbolic measure caters to party stalwarts on the liberal edge of the spectrum just as the House GOP measure is crafted to appeal to more recent tea party arrivals.
The vote, though, follows four years of pressure and taunting by House Republicans who excoriated the Senate for failing to approve a formal year-long budget throughout most of President Obama's first term. The government has been limping by on a series of partial-year budget bills, the latest of which was approved this week to fund the rest of fiscal 2013.
The final vote early Saturday morning was preceded by a marathon session of votes on dozens of amendments to the 2014 budget proposal. Many of the proposals were offered in hopes of inflicting political damage on Democrat senators up for re-election in GOP-leaning states like Alaska and Louisiana.
The two main budget proposals produced by Senate Democrats and House Republicans are miles apart. The Senate plan does not attempt to balance the budget at all, though it does claim to reduce the deficit by imposing nearly $1 trillion in tax increases on top of more than $600 billion in higher taxes on top earners enacted in January. It also includes $875 billion in spending cuts, generated by modest cuts to federal health care programs, domestic agencies and the Pentagon and reduced government borrowing costs.
The House plan -- by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI), his party's vice presidential candidate last year -- claims $4 trillion more in savings over the period than Senate Democrats by imposing major cuts in Medicaid, food stamps and other safety net programs for the needy. It would also transform the Medicare health care program for seniors into a voucher-like system for future recipients.
"We have presented very different visions for how our country should work and who it should work for," said Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), who chairs the Senate Budget Committee. "But I am hopeful that we can bridge this divide."
Congressional budgets are planning documents that leave actual changes in revenues and spending for later legislation, and this was the first the Democrat-run Senate has approved in four years. That is testament to the political and mathematical contortions needed to write fiscal plans in an era of record-breaking deficits that until this year exceeded an eye-popping $1 trillion annually, and to the parties' profoundly conflicting views.
"I believe we're in denial about the financial condition of our country," Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), top Republican on the Budget panel, said of Democrat efforts to boost spending on some programs. "Trust me, we've got to have some spending reductions."
READ FULL SOURCE ARTICLE: 03/23/2013
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