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House rejects Democratic budget alternatives

The House on Wednesday voted down two budget alternatives offered by two key Democratic factions as Republicans move forward with their proposal this week to establish a vehicle for tax reform.

Substitute budgets offered by the Congressional Progressive Caucus and Congressional Black Caucus were both defeated in late evening votes. The House is expected to adopt the House GOP budget on Thursday.

Both proposals to spend more money on social safety net programs stood in contrast to the House GOP budget, which would increase military spending and call for $203 billion in cuts to mandatory spending, including anti-poverty and agriculture programs. Neither budget would balance, but proponents say they would help reduce the deficit over time.

The GOP budget would balance in 10 years. But it relies on certain assumptions, such as predicting the economy will grow at an average rate of 2.6 percent, that are not guaranteed to actually happen.

The Black Caucus budget, which failed 130-292, proposed $1 trillion over the next five years for infrastructure and job training programs. It would seek to expand access to health care by adding a public option to the Affordable Care Act exchanges.

It would also spend another $300 billion over 10 years on anti-poverty programs ranging from eliminating cuts for food stamps to extending unemployment insurance. The Black Caucus budget would further codify a proposal championed by Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) to ensure federal programs direct at least 10 percent of their funds to communities where at least 20 percent of the population has lived below the poverty line for at least the last 30 years.

"How can we say with a straight face that we propose to lift people out of poverty, help people achieve the American dream, and help our children dream the impossible dream and then give them the power so that they can go achieve it while we're cutting their education, we're cutting all the programs that help them to achieve it?" Congressional Black Caucus Chairman Cedric Richmond (D-La.) said of the GOP budget.

The Progressive Caucus budget, meanwhile, goes further in advancing liberal priorities and went down 108-314 with 79 Democrats joining all Republicans to vote against it. It would spend $2 trillion in infrastructure programs and, among other proposals, fund universal child care, provide for comprehensive immigration reform, and maintain the health care law while allowing states to transition to single-payer systems.

The budget would raise revenue primarily by hiking taxes on millionaires and billionaires, establishing a tax on Wall Street transactions, and limiting tax deductions for people in the highest tax brackets. Both the Progressive Caucus and Black Caucus budgets would end the Pentagon's war fund, known as Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO).

"This budget invests in the American people. It invests in jobs. It invests in solid education and it invests in the greater good," said Congressional Progressive Caucus Co-Chairman Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.).

It encountered swift opposition from Republicans skeptical of expanding government spending.

"Government cannot create jobs because it cannot create wealth. But what it can do is create the conditions where jobs multiply and prosper, or where they stagnate and disappear," said Rep. Tom McClintock (R-Calif.).

The House will consider two more substitute budget proposals before voting on final passage of the House GOP budget on Thursday.

A third Democratic budget, offered by Rep. John Yarmuth (Ky.), the ranking minority member of the House Budget Committee, also encourages having the wealthy pay more in taxes, enacting comprehensive immigration reform, raising the minimum wage and promoting infrastructure investments.

But it does not go as far as the Black or Progressive caucus budgets when it comes to health care, stating that Congress "should build upon the progress" of the Affordable Care Act and that the Trump administration should "stop any efforts to sabotage the health insurance marketplaces."

The House on Thursday will consider the third Democratic budget, as well as the proposal offered by the conservative Republican Study Committee which would balance in five years, repeal the health care law and reduce spending for non-defense programs.

GOP lawmakers are primarily moving a budget to get the ball rolling on tax reform after the White House and top congressional leaders unveiled a framework last week.

Adopting a budget will unlock a process known as reconciliation, which allows Republicans to pass tax reform with only a simple majority in the Senate.

Republicans tried to use the same process for repealing the health care law, but the defections of more than the maximum of two senators with concerns about the proposed replacements prevented its success.

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