Recess looming, Congress aims to move forward on budget
Leaders in Congress are attempting to wrap up work this week -- before leaving for their week-long Easter recess -- on a budget for the rest of the 2013 fiscal year, even as Republicans and Democrats struggle to find any redeeming qualities in each other's respective 2014 budgets.
The Senate is poised to pass a spending bill for the rest of this fiscal year, and avert a partial government shutdown on March 27, after it cleared a procedural hurdle yesterday. After the Senate passes the measure, it will send it back to the GOP-led House, which passed its own version two weeks ago.
The two congressional chambers are aiming to reconcile the differences between their respective bills and get the measure to President Obama before the week is up.
On the Senate floor Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said the Senate would complete the 2013 spending bill "very quickly."
In addition to extending the federal budget through September of this year, the Senate spending bill provides money for military programs, in an attempt to make up for the sequestration cuts that are hitting all government agencies. The Democrat-led Senate also added money for domestic programs like education, health and transportation. The Senate bill also allows some flexibility to agencies on imposed spending cuts from the sequester.
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The House version of the bill was more limited, only adding military spending. Leaders from both parties, however, are interested in resolving those differences. "Remember our goal here isn't... to shut down our government," House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said Tuesday.
White House press secretary Jay Carney said the Obama administration was "encouraged by the progress... ... towards funding the government and avoiding another unnecessary self-inflicted wound on the economy."
Since the spending bill is unlikely to replace any of the funding cut through sequestration, aside from some military spending, Carney said the White House would tackle that issue in longer-term budget negotiations.
"We are engaged in conversations about the possibility of moving forward on deficit reduction in a balanced way that would eliminate the sequester, if achieved, but also beyond that... bring us past the $4 trillion over 10 years goal," he said, referring to the White House's deficit reduction goal.
Reid said Tuesday that the Senate would not only pass the 2013 spending bill but also finish work on the 2014 budget before recessing for spring break.
"We are going to finish the budget before we leave here," he said. "There will be no more talk about not having a budget. We're going to have a budget. We're going to do that before we leave here for Easter. If it takes however long it takes."
Senate Democrats have introduced a 2014 budget plan that would reverse the sequestration cuts while bringing in nearly $1 trillion in revenue by closing tax loopholes that primarily benefit wealthier Americans and corporations. It would also make targeted spending cuts in roughly the same amount.
The House Republicans, meanwhile, have introduced a plan that would balance the federal budget in 10 years by restricting future annual increases in spending, overhaul Medicare and implement widespread non-defense discretionary cuts.
Neither plan has any real chance of making it to Mr. Obama's desk, but even if one did, the budget blueprint would be non-binding.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., called the Senate Democratic budget "one of the most extreme, most unbalanced pieces of legislation we've seen."
"A party that once cared about hardworking American families seems to have gone off the leftmost edge of the reservation with this budget," he said. "D.C. Democrats' priorities are just so far removed from the actual needs of the middle-class Kentuckians and Americans who continue to struggle in the Obama economy."
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