Senate Republicans plead for a budget as frustrations boil over

Senate Republicans proposed five budgets Wednesday, but the Democratic-controlled Senate defeated them all. Republicans say Democrats are punting on tough choices, Democrats say they already have a budget.  

Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP/File
Sen. Mike Lee of Utah, seen here last year, was one of three Republican senators to propose a budget Wednesday.

Senate Republicans on Wednesday offered five different budget proposals, all of which were defeated by the Democratic-controlled Senate.

The burst of Republican activity amounted to a primal scream of frustration over the fact that the Senate has not passed a budget in three years. Many political analysts agree with Republicans, who charge that Democrats have steadfastly refused to offer a budget to protect senators facing tough reelection contests from unpopular votes.

For their part, Democrats say last summer's Budget Control Act – the legislation stemming from the debt-ceiling deal, which included caps on discretionary spending for the next decade – effectively functions as a budget.

None of the five proposals introduced Wednesday crossed the 60-vote threshold needed to overcome a filibuster. Three came from GOP senators, one was the House budget championed by Rep. Paul Ryan (R) of Wisconsin, and the final offering was President Obama's own budget, which Democrats said Republicans changed and introduced only as a gimmick – it was unanimously defeated. 

In conversations with reporters and on the Senate floor, Republicans repeatedly denounced Senate Democrats for failing offer their own budget proposal. 

“Does the majority party not feel an obligation to tell the American people where they want to lead the country?” said Sen. Jeff Sessions (R) of Alabama on the Senate floor. “Do they, in a time of financial crisis, feel they don’t have to lay out a plan?”

The Senate proposals came from Republican Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky, Mike Lee of Utah, and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and broadly aimed to bring the federal budget into balance within the next decade. 

To do so, they envision broad cuts to government spending, such as the elimination of four government departments under Senator Paul’s budget, overhauls of Medicare and Social Security under Senator Lee’s proposal, and slashing discretionary spending back to 2006 levels under Senator Toomey’s plan

“Who’s taking the political risk here?” Toomey told reporters. “The people that put their name on a specific set of reforms and ideas for which they’ll be held accountable. And then there’s another group of people who are hiding in the weeds.”

“Much has been said about the need for compromise,” said Paul. “How do you compromise with the other side if they have no proposition?” 

Senate majority leader Harry Reid (D) of Nevada rejected the comments, pointing to the Budget Control Act. “Since August those Republicans have developed a case of amnesia,” he said on the Senate floor. “Why else would they walk around Washington claiming we don’t have a budget?”

One of the most vulnerable Democratic senators, Joe Manchin (D) of West Virginia, took shots at both sides. He issued a statement saying he, too, was fed up with a lack of progress on the budget and drilled Mr. Obama’s offering because it “digs an even deeper debt hole for the next generation.” But he also said Republican budgets would “destroy” Social Security and Medicare.

What does Senator Manchin propose? The bipartisan Bowles-Simpson commission plan. That plan, which features a mix of spending cuts and revenue increases, has received frequent praise from members of both parties but drawn precious little legislative action. 

When a version of the commission plan was offered in the House earlier this year, it crashed with only 43 affirming votes (out of 435 members of the House). Sen. Mark Warner (D) of Virginia and other centrist lawmakers have been working on Senate legislation mirroring Simpson-Bowles but have yet to introduce it. 

What might solve the budget impasse? Manchin is the lone Senate Democrat (among nine Republicans) to back a proposal to tie congressional pay to passing the budget. Should Congress eschew passing appropriations bills by Oct. 1, the beginning of the federal fiscal year, members would cease receiving their pay.

At a press conference for the new Fix Congress Now Caucus on Wednesday, a half dozen House members from both parties discussed the proposal known as “no budget, no pay.” 

Why would their measure prod Congress into budgetary action? 

“We will have engaged the most powerful lobbyists on earth to get it done,” said Rep. Jim Cooper (D) of Tennessee. “Namely, our spouses, because they have a strong interest in us getting paid.”

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