By Alexander Bolton - 03/10/11 01:55 AM EST
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.
“Eleven Senate Democrats just voted against their leadership’s proposal,” said Michael Steel, spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner (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 Reid (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 Boehner (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 Paul (R-Ky.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah).
Republican centrists who support abortion rights, including Sens. Scott Brown (Mass.), Susan Collins (Maine), Mark Kirk (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 Bennet (D-Colo.), Kay Hagan (D-N.C.), Herb Kohl (D-Wis.), Carl Levin (D-Mich.), Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Mark Udall (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 Schumer (N.Y.), vice chairman of the Senate Democratic Conference, said Wednesday in a speech at the Center for American Progress.
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (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.