Senate Democrats on Wednesday said they will move a budget resolution through the Budget Committee and onto the Senate floor for the first time in four years.
Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray (D-Wash.) said the decision had nothing to do with the House’s debt-ceiling bill, which would withhold senators’ pay if they failed to pass a budget by April 15. The "no budget, no pay" bill is scheduled for a vote on Wednesday.
“Senate Democrats plan to move on a budget resolution regardless of whether the House rolls this issue into their short-term bill to increase the debt limit,” Murray said.
The Budget chairwoman said that Democrats are eager to contrast their budget with whatever the House produces.
House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) last week committed to producing a budget that balances within 10 years, a feat that will likely require far deeper cuts to government programs than his last two budgets required. His last budget, which cut $5 trillion in spending and partially privatized Medicare, balanced in about 25 years.
“Democrats and Republicans spent the last year laying out our budget values and priorities on the campaign trail, and the American people went to the polls and strongly endorsed the Democrats' balanced approach that puts jobs and the middle class first, calls on the wealthy to pay their fair share, protects seniors and families and lays down a strong foundation for long-term economic growth,” Murray said.
Republican leaders claimed victory after Senate Democrats said they would accept the House's debt-ceiling bill.
"With the economy on the line for four years, Senate Democrats refused to pass a budget. With their paychecks on the line for one week, they came around," said Rory Cooper, spokesman for House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.).
Lawmakers who have pushed for a return to regular order on the budget also applauded Murray's decision.
“If Sen. Murray says we are going to move forward, that’s a huge victory,” said Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.), who has introduced his own version of “no budget, no pay” legislation.
Conservative Democrat Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.), a co-sponsor of Heller's bill, said he was “tickled to death” by Murray’s announcement.
Murray met with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) on Tuesday night to chart the path forward. In recent weeks she had been consulting with colleagues on whether to move through committee, which could be a difficult task.
The Budget Committee has deficit hawks like Sens. Mark Warner (D-Va.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) who are willing to cut entitlement benefits, and liberals like Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) who have ruled out any cuts at all.
Including Murray, there are 12 Democrats on the panel and 10 Republicans.
Murray needs a majority of those voting and present to move the budget forward, an aide said. She can afford one Democratic abstention but not a Democratic "no" vote, assuming all Republicans vote no.
Vulnerable Democrat Sen. Mark Begich (Alaska), up for reelection in 2014, is no longer on the Budget Committee this year. Newcomers Angus King (I-Maine) and Tim Kaine (D-Va.) are likely to bolster the deficit-hawk camp, while liberal Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) could prove to be to the left of Murray.
Democrats will be seeking higher revenue in the budget, but Republicans have said that more revenue is off the table following the “fiscal cliff” deal.
Murray said that now that the normal budget procedure is being taken up, Republicans need to stop using the debt ceiling and threat of government shutdown to try to get their way on spending.
“For years, congressional Republicans have used every crisis they could manufacture to litigate the federal budget outside the regular budget process without any regard for the impact of their actions on workers and the economy,” she said. “Republicans have time and again pulled budget negotiations out of the Budget Committees in ways that rattled the markets, hurt the economy and increased uncertainty.
“Republicans can either say they want to have a budget debate in the Budget committees, or they can say they would prefer to negotiate the issue lurching from crisis to crisis — but they can’t say both. It simply doesn’t make sense,” she said.
Republicans say that they have had to use the debt ceiling and continuing-resolution fights because the budget process has broken down.
Even if Senate Democrats manage to pass a budget, the chances of Murray’s resolution being reconciled with that of Paul Ryan in a conference committee appear slim at best.
This story was updated at 11:03 a.m.