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In Senate, 2012 federal budget drama could take bipartisan turn

The House passed its federal budget bill Friday on a near party-line vote, but both the Senate and the president are working hard to forge a bipartisan alternative.

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Until now, Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D) of North Dakota has delayed committee deliberations on a 2012 budget in order to wait on the Gang of Six, which includes Senators Conrad and Durbin, as well as Sens. Mark Warner (D) of Virginia, Tom Coburn (R) of Oklahoma, Saxby Chambliss (R) of Georgia, and Mike Crapo (R) of Idaho.

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The vice president has urged the Gang of Six to continue their work, even as he launches his bipartisan negotiations.

Both the House budget and ongoing bipartisan efforts in the Senate draw on recommendations of the deficit commission. The Ryan plan credits the fiscal commission with identifying ways to save on discretionary spending, including cutting corporate tax breaks, overhauling how the government manages real estate assets, and reducing the federal auto fleet by 20 percent.

But House Republicans reject outright any effort to close the deficit gap by raising taxes. The House plan eliminates some $800 billion in tax increases related to implementation of the president’s health-care reform law and extends Bush-era tax cuts.

In the Senate, however, two Republicans in the Gang of Six – Senators Coburn and Crapo – backed tax increases as part of a comprehensive plan to resolve the nation’s debt crisis. “I’m hopeful we are getting to an agreement that’s good,” said Coburn Thursday.

House sparring

Democrats predicted that controversy over the House budget would run through 2012 elections and beyond. “It is an ethic for our country to keep our bedrock promise to our seniors, to keep our promise of Medicare, a benefit they have earned through a lifetime of work,” said House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi. “House Republicans are voting to break that promise, jeopardizing the health and economic security of America's seniors.”

In a response on the floor, Ryan said that Medicare as we know it will be bankrupt in nine years. “The biggest threat to Medicare is the status quo,” he said.

“This budget will bring more certainty to the American people – show the American people that we're serious about cutting spending – because we all know that cutting spending will reduce some of the uncertainty that's causing job creators to sit on their hands,” said Speaker John Boehner (R) of Ohio before Friday’s vote.

Asked at a press briefing whether he intended to appoint members to serve on the Biden commission, Boehner said: “We've had commissions around here and we've had commissions. Nobody's ever paid much attention. And clearly the president didn't pay any attention to his own deficit-reduction commission. The conversations are going to continue. We'll know more in the future.”

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