Spending plan vote backfires as Democrats suffer defections

Senate Democrats suffered a wave of defections Wednesday as their proposal to cut just over $6 billion from federal spending this year went down to defeat. 

The Democratic bill attracted two fewer votes than the rival GOP measure that would cut spending by another $57 billion this year. The 11 defections will give Republican leaders ammunition in subsequent talks, as they were able to keep their caucus more unified. 

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The GOP measure lost by a vote of 44 to 56, while the Democratic bill was rejected, 42-58.

“Eleven Senate Democrats just voted against their leadership’s proposal,” said Michael Steel, spokesman for House Speaker John BoehnerJohn BoehnerObama mocks GOP, media and himself in final WHCD address Obama pals around with Boehner in WHCD video Sunday shows preview: Cruz pulls out all the stops ahead of Indiana MORE (R-Ohio).  “The bill supported by Sen. Reid ...  proved less popular than the ‘draconian’ House Republican proposal in the Democrat-controlled Senate.”

Democrats had referred to the GOP proposal as draconian during the debate. Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidSatanists balk at Cruz comparison Cory Booker is Clinton secret weapon Overnight Energy: Dems block energy spending bill for second day MORE (D-Nev.) last week said it was one of the worst pieces of legislation in the history of the Congress.

Reid had hoped for a game-changer with votes that showed senators closer to the Democratic plan than the one backed by Speaker John BoehnerJohn BoehnerObama mocks GOP, media and himself in final WHCD address Obama pals around with Boehner in WHCD video Sunday shows preview: Cruz pulls out all the stops ahead of Indiana MORE (R-Ohio), but the plan backfired. 

After the votes, Reid did not respond when asked if he was surprised that the Republican bill secured more votes than the Democratic measure.

He did say he wants to strike a deal that would fund the government for the rest of the fiscal year, reiterating his opposition to passing stop-gap bills.

The GOP bill did not receive a single Democratic vote. Three members of the Senate Tea Party Caucus also voted no: Sens. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), Rand PaulRand PaulFive ways Trump will attack Clinton Carter pledges probe of sex assault testimony Rand Paul wants to legalize cooperation MORE (R-Ky.) and Mike LeeMike LeeCruz: Boehner unleashed his ‘inner Trump’ Senate pressured to take up email privacy bill after overwhelming House vote House unanimously passes email privacy bill MORE (R-Utah).

Republican centrists who support abortion rights, including Sens. Scott Brown (Mass.), Susan CollinsSusan CollinsLarry Wilmore, Sting party in DC ahead of WHCD GOP women push Trump on VP pick Sanders is most popular senator, according to constituent poll MORE (Maine), Mark KirkMark KirkElizabeth Warren stumps, raises funds for Duckworth GOP blocks slate of Obama judicial nominees Durbin: McConnell should move criminal justice bill next month MORE (Ill.) and Olympia Snowe (Maine), backed the House bill, even though it would strip federal funding for Planned Parenthood. Brown and Snowe are up for reelection in 2012, though Snowe is viewed more vulnerable in a primary than in the general election. When a reporter inquired about her vote, noting the Tea Party is targeting her next year, Snowe smiled and said, “Are they really?”

The Democratic plan, which would have cut $6.2 billion in federal spending, lost 10 Democrats and one Independent member — more than many Senate insiders expected. Every Republican opposed it.

Earlier this week, Reid said that he believed the “vast majority” of his caucus would vote for the Democratic alternative.

Sens. Michael BennetMichael BennetGOP Senate candidate wins right to be on Colorado ballot EPA ozone rule looms large in swing state 2 Colorado Senate candidates fail to qualify for ballot MORE (D-Colo.), Kay HaganKay Hagan10 Senate seats most likely to flip in 2016 Senate Republicans are feeling the 'Trump effect' Washington's lobby firms riding high MORE (D-N.C.), Herb Kohl (D-Wis.), Carl LevinCarl LevinCarl, Sander Levin rebuke Sanders for tax comments on Panama trade deal Supreme Court: Eye on the prize Congress got it wrong on unjustified corporate tax loopholes MORE (D-Mich.), Joe ManchinJoe ManchinPennsylvania Senate rivals use Trump, Clinton as ammunition Democrats block energy spending bill over Iran amendment Coal Country’s top lawyer takes on Obama’s EPA MORE (D-W.Va.), Claire McCaskillClaire McCaskillBill would target retaliation against military sexual assault victims Senate Dem takes on drugmaker: ‘It’s time to slaughter some hogs’ Week ahead: Drug pricing back in focus MORE (D-Mo.), Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), Bill NelsonBill NelsonThree more Republican senators to meet with Supreme Court nominee This week: Congress on track to miss Puerto Rico deadline Senate looks for easy wins amid 2016 gridlock MORE (D-Fla.), Bernie SandersBernie SandersObama mocks GOP, media and himself in final WHCD address Larry Wilmore mocks Sanders's age: He usually goes to the early-bird dinner Obama gives shoutout to Sanders at correspondents' dinner MORE (I-Vt.), Mark UdallMark UdallEnergy issues roil race for Senate Unable to ban Internet gambling, lawmakers try for moratorium Two vulnerable senators lack challengers for 2016 MORE (D-Colo.) and Jim Webb (D-Va.), a mix of centrists and liberals, voted against their leadership for different reasons.

The White House said the failed votes showed that both parties must come together to find common ground.

“There is no disagreement that we have to cut spending, which is why we have already agreed to meet Republicans halfway and have indicated our willingness to do more,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said. “But, we need to ensure we cut responsibly, and that we don’t undermine growth and competitiveness by cutting investments in education and research and development.”

Not all of the Democrats who voted against their party’s measure want their leaders to agree to deeper spending cuts.

Levin said lawmakers need to look at raising taxes and not just at cuts to domestic spending as a means to reduce the deficit.

“It deals only with cuts in non-defense discretionary spending, and as a result it gives support to a pattern of debating only spending cuts as the solution to our deficits, when in fact the solution to this problem must include additional revenue as well,” Levin said.

Sanders made a similar argument.

“I voted against the Democratic proposal because, if the Democrats are serious about deficit reduction, they have to raise revenue along with spending cuts,” he said.

Other Democrats facing reelection said their party leaders need to act more aggressively to cut the projected $1.6 trillion federal deficit.

“There is not enough deficit reduction in the Democratic alternative. We need to do better,” said Kohl.

Manchin, who criticized a lack of leadership from President Obama earlier this week in the spending fight, said the Democratic plan “doesn’t go far enough” and “ignores our fiscal realities.”


But he said the House GOP plan was “even more flawed” because it “blindly hacks the budget with no sense of our priorities or of our values as a country.”


Ben Nelson criticized both proposals before the vote. “Both bills are dead and they deserve to be dead,” he said. “One cuts too little. The other bill has too much hate. Neither one is serious.”


Kohl, Manchin, McCaskill, Sanders, Ben Nelson and Bill Nelson are facing reelection in 2012.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle said spending negotiations would begin in earnest after the test votes forced senators to take public stances on the competing proposals.

The current stopgap funding measure runs through March 18.

“Once it is plain that both parties’ opening bids in this budget debate are non-starters, we can finally get serious about sitting down and narrowing the huge gap that exists between the two sides,” Sen. Charles SchumerCharles SchumerCruz's dad: Trump 'would be worse than Hillary Clinton' With Ryan’s blessing, lawmakers press ahead with tax reform talks Big business will never appease the Left MORE (N.Y.), vice chairman of the Senate Democratic Conference, said Wednesday in a speech at the Center for American Progress.

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellOvernight Finance: House rejects financial adviser rule; Obama rebukes Sanders on big banks Senators roll out changes to criminal justice bill Sanders is most popular senator, according to constituent poll MORE (Ky.), however, accused Democrats of not being serious about cutting spending.

“Paying lip service to the threat caused by the deficit is not a substitute for responsible leadership, and job-destroying tax hikes on small businesses and American families are not the answer to out-of-control Washington spending,” McConnell said.

Wednesday’s votes did little to point the way to a possible solution to the stalemate. Instead, it confirmed that no senator is willing to buck his own party by teaming up with the other side.

Republican centrists voted for the House GOP proposal despite their misgivings.

Collins told The New York Times Tuesday: “There are a lot of cuts that I think are ill-advised. There are programs eliminated halfway during the year rather than phased out in an orderly fashion.”

Josiah Ryan and Bob Cusack contributed to this article.