Plenty of 2012 spending plans, but not one has sufficient support to pass

Plenty of 2012 spending plans, but not one has sufficient support to pass

Democrats and Republicans are flailing in their efforts to generate momentum for any of their competing budget plans. 

Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) on Tuesday presented a proposal to his Democratic colleagues that would lower the deficit with a 50-50 split between spending cuts and tax increases. Republicans immediately rejected the idea.

Meanwhile, Senate Republicans led by Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), introduced a measure that excludes an overhaul of Medicare, which is the most controversial part of the Republican budget passed by the House last month. 

Toomey said his plan would actually spend more on Medicare than President Obama’s budget request. The decision to leave Medicare untouched triggered grumbling from the right. Toomey’s proposal also has not one Democratic co-sponsor.

Republican and Democratic congressional leaders have been quick recently to oppose each other’s budgets but reticent about what they support. That will make it harder to reach a deal to raise the federal debt ceiling. 

Moreover, the bipartisan Gang of Six senators has not yet released its budget plan despite months of intense negotiations.

Speaker John BoehnerJohn BoehnerTrump aide: Boehner is the disaster Boehner: Tax reform is 'just a bunch of happy talk' Lobbying World MORE (R-Ohio) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellTrump got harsher GOP reception than Bush on budget Franken explains why he made an exception to diss Cruz in his book The Memo: Trump returns to challenges at home MORE (R-Ky.) have for weeks said they will not tolerate any tax increases. Yet they have given details about what spending cuts they want in exchange for raising the $14.3 trillion debt ceiling. 

BoehnerJohn BoehnerTrump aide: Boehner is the disaster Boehner: Tax reform is 'just a bunch of happy talk' Lobbying World MORE this week publicly backed Budget Committee Chairman Paul RyanPaul Ryan8th graders refuse to take photo with Paul Ryan Dems plot recess offensive on ObamaCare President Trump needs to make some huuuge changes, and soon MORE’s (R-Wis.) plan. But after its Medicare reforms attracted criticism at town halls, GOP leaders indicated they will not try to put these provisions  into authorizing legislation.

Sensing a political advantage, Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidGOP frustrated by slow pace of Trump staffing This week: Congress awaits Comey testimony Will Republicans grow a spine and restore democracy? MORE (D-Nev.) has said he will schedule a vote on Ryan’s budget. McConnell countered by seeking a roll call on Obama’s budget.

The failure of all these plans to gain traction increases the importance of talks between Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenThe Hill's 12:30 Report Cornell unveils Biden ice cream Biden fuels 2020 speculation MORE and congressional leaders about the debt ceiling.

Biden met for a second time Tuesday with the Senate chairmen of the Finance and Appropriations committees as well as with Senate Republican Whip Jon Kyl (Ariz.), House Majority Leader Eric CantorEric CantorTrump nominates two new DOD officials Brat: New ObamaCare repeal bill has 'significant' changes Overnight Energy: Flint lawmaker pushes EPA for new lead rule MORE (R-Va.) and Reps. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and James Clyburn (D-S.C.).

McConnell has said any big deficit-cutting deal would probably be tied to the debt limit. But some leaders doubt these talks will produce more than a temporary plan to prevent the U.S. from defaulting on its debts. 

“Knowing that we are very far apart between the president, the Senate and where we are, we are not under any illusion that we’re going to get some grand- slam agreement,” Ryan said last week.

Conrad, a member of the Gang of Six, has a delicate line to toe on his own panel.

Responding to strong criticism from liberals on the Budget Committee such as Sens. Bernie SandersBernie SandersFunding confusion complicates Meals on Wheels budget fight The Hill's 12:30 Report Five takeaways from the Montana special election MORE (I-Vt.), Ben CardinBen CardinSenate panel could pass new Russia sanctions this summer Worries mount about vacancies in Trump's State Department Pence marks Armed Forces Day with vow to rebuild military MORE (D-Md.) and Jeff MerkleyJeff MerkleyRussia probes in limbo after special prosecutor announcement Special counsel appointment gets bipartisan praise Lawmakers unveil bill to combat Sessions' push for tougher sentences MORE (D-Ore.), Conrad altered his plan over the last week by embracing the 50-50 tax increases/spending cuts approach.

That’s a significant move to the left after Obama last month suggested a three-to-one ratio of spending cuts to tax increases. 

Sanders said he was pleased Conrad rewrote the ratios.

“It’s a more progressive budget, and I think it’s a stronger budget, than a week ago,” he said. 

Conrad’s plan is designed to win a majority vote in the Budget Committee, where he cannot afford a single defection given the narrow split of 12 Democrats to 11 Republicans. Democratic aides don’t expect it to win 50 votes on the Senate floor. 

A Democratic aide said it’s necessary for Democrats to move left to strengthen their hand in negotiations with House Republicans. 

Vulnerable Democratic incumbents such as Sens. Claire McCaskillClaire McCaskillSanders, Democrats introduce minimum wage bill Mnuchin: WH won't double-count economic growth Technology's role in human trafficking cannot be ignored MORE (Mo.), Jon TesterJon TesterSanders, Democrats introduce minimum wage bill Montana senator on Gianforte: Dealing with media ‘part of the job’ Senators pan WH proposal to cut airport security programs, hike ticket fees MORE (Mont.), Ben Nelson (Neb.) and Joe ManchinJoe ManchinConvicted ex-coal exec appeals case to Supreme Court Sanders, Democrats introduce minimum wage bill Overnight Energy: Trump energy nominees face Congress | OPEC to extend production cuts MORE (W.Va.) will likely attract Republican attacks if they vote for hundreds of billions in tax increases. 

Conrad is expected to publicly release his budget in the coming days and mark it up next week. 

Sources close to the Gang of Six admit that the group hit a rough patch at the beginning of last week. However, Sen. Mark WarnerMark WarnerSenate Intel Committee demands Trump campaign to turn over all docs: report Mr. President: Cooperation with Russian investigation is your best play Congress must address student loan debt crisis, a national economic drag MORE (D-Va.), the gang’s co-founder, told The Hill Thursday that he is still optimistic about reaching a deal by the end of May.

Members of the Gang of Six met in Senate Majority Whip Dick DurbinDick DurbinUncertainty builds in Washington over White House leaks Top Dem: Kushner reports a 'rumor at this point' Sunday shows: Homeland Security chief hits the circuit after Manchester attack MORE's (D-Ill.) office Tuesday evening. 

Added to the mix are the different spending projections that have been released by the White House’s Office of Management and Budget, the Congressional Budget Office and the fiscal commission, creating what Sen. Sheldon WhitehouseSheldon WhitehouseDOJ pitches agreements to solve international data warrant woes Senators push for enhanced powers to battle botnets GOP rejects Dem effort to demand Trump’s tax returns MORE (D-R.I.) described on Tuesday as “a swirling discussion.”

“Everybody has got a view on how you get the deficit under control, everybody has got a view on how you get the debt down,” Conrad said Tuesday morning. “It is made so much more complicated by all these different baselines. My numbers people on the committee have never seen such a complicated [scenario].”