By Walter Alarkon - 05/22/10 10:00 AM EDT
Freshman House Democrats are pressing leaders to do a budget resolution this year even as senior Democrats lay the groundwork to skip it.
Rep. Scott Murphy (D-N.Y.) and other first-term members, uneasy with large deficits, want Democratic leaders to put forth a budget blueprint and call votes on it so lawmakers can show they can deal with red ink.
Several of these freshmen face tough reelection campaigns this year and could benefit politically from passing an austere budget. Republican challengers have made the $13 trillion debt central to their argument against the Democratic majority.
While senior Democrats in the House and Senate have yet to rule out a budget resolution, they've said they're considering a deeming resolution that would set the discretionary spending levels for next year but wouldn't include fiscal policy for the years beyond, which is what full-fledged budget resolutions do.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) has said it will be difficult to pass a budget resolution this year because of a daunting fiscal picture and because Democrats are in a tough election year.
"How we go forward with meeting our responsibilities will be, again, in a very responsible – to use that word again – way," Pelosi said this week.
She said that any measure Democrats move forward with would
meet Americans' needs and the Democrats' goal of halving the deficit in five
This year's deficit is projected by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) to hit $1.5 trillion.
House leaders have held talks with fiscally conservative Blue Dog Democrats about their plan to cut non-security discretionary spending by 2 percent in each of the next three years and freeze it for the following two years. President Barack Obama's plan had proposed a three-year freeze on that spending, but it would still lead to deficits that would average nearly $1 trillion and remain on an unsustainable pace for the next decade, according to the CBO.
Murphy's letter, delivered Friday to Pelosi, was also signed by freshman Democratic Reps. Mike Quigley (Ill.), Larry Kissell (N.C.), Steve Driehaus (Ohio) and Jim Himes (Conn.).
"We write to you today to express our support for consideration and passage of a budget resolution for FY2011 that reduces our actual spending," the members wrote. "We accept passing a budget as part of the responsibility of governing we accepted when first elected in 2008."
In a separate statement, first-term Democrat Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick (Ariz.) said both parties have been irresponsible over the past decade when it has come to the country's finances.
"The budget is our opportunity to get spending under control, and it is extremely disappointing that we're not getting job done," Kirkpatrick said.
The intra-party friction over the budget comes at the same time centrist members raised qualms with the cost of a $190 billion bill that extends the Medicare doctor payment rate, jobless benefits and tax provisions and provides tax incentives and funding for new jobs.
The vote on the bill was pushed back from last Friday to next week because of Blue Dogs' concerns.
Republicans have pointed out that a failure by House Democrats to bring up a budget would be unprecedented. Since the budget rules were put in place in 1974, the House has passed at least its version of the budget plan. Congress failed to pass a final resolution, one that passed both chambers, in 1998, 2002, 2004 and 2006, all years in which the GOP controlled at least one chamber of Congress.
House Minority Leader John Boehner's (R-Ohio) office noted that Democrats have blasted Republicans before for not passing a budget plan.
“Out-of-touch Washington Democrats can’t hide from their record," said Michael Steel, a Boehner spokesman. "A letter to the Speaker won’t get them off the hook for their budget-busting, job-killing votes. Majority Leader Hoyer called passing a budget ‘the most basic responsibility of governing,’ and they are failing.”