Senate Dems rally around Conrad's left-leaning budget proposal, tax raises

Senate Democrats on Wednesday embraced a budget proposal that is significantly to the left of President Obama’s plan on raising new tax revenues. 

The prospects of the blueprint passing the Senate are bleak, but its emergence after months of negotiation is aimed at countering GOP criticisms that Democrats haven’t passed a budget in two years. Democrats believe some of the proposal could be merged into a bipartisan agreement on raising the debt ceiling. 

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The budget plan would reduce the deficit by $4 trillion over 10 years, according to the baseline used by its author, Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.). Using the benchmark assumptions of Obama’s fiscal commission, Conrad said his budget would reduce the deficit by nearly $5 trillion.

Roughly half of that total would come from raising government revenues through new taxes and the closure of special tax loopholes, according to Senate sources familiar with the plan. 

That would put the total amount of additional tax revenues called for by the Conrad budget in the neighborhood of $2 trillion over 10 years, significantly more than what Obama has proposed. 

In April, Obama called for a ratio of $3 in spending cuts for every $1 in tax increases, according to a White House fact sheet released at the time. 

Conrad appears to have the votes to clear his measure through his panel, though he will need two GOP targets in 2012 — Sens. Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonSenate campaign fundraising reports roll in Week ahead: Tech giants to testify on extremist content Puerto Rico's children need recovery funds MORE (D-Fla.) and Debbie StabenowDeborah (Debbie) Ann StabenowSenate Finance Dems want more transparency on trade from Trump Prominent Michigan Republican drops out of Senate primary GOP chairman shoots down Democrat effort to delay tax work until Jones is seated MORE (D-Mich.) — to back the plan. Both senators sit on the Budget Committee, which comprises 12 Democrats and 11 Republicans. Budget panel member Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersMellman: On Political Authenticity (Part 2) Former Sanders campaign manager: Don't expect email list to be shared with DNC Adult film star: Trump and Stormy Daniels invited me to 'hang out' MORE (I-Vt.) now supports Conrad’s plan after criticizing an earlier draft of it. 

Other vulnerable Democratic members who are up for reelection, such as Sens. Ben Nelson (Neb.), Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinMcConnell to Dems: Don't hold government 'hostage' over DACA Lawmakers see shutdown’s odds rising Senate campaign fundraising reports roll in MORE (W.Va.), Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterEMILY’s List president: Franken did 'right thing for Minnesota' Reforming veterans health care for all generations of veterans Trump and Republicans deliver gift that keeps on giving for Americans MORE (Mont.) and Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownSenate campaign fundraising reports roll in Commerce sends Trump long-awaited steel report GOP Rep. Jim Renacci announces Ohio Senate bid MORE (Ohio), might not have to vote on the resolution. 

Senate Majority Whip Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinMcCarthy: ‘No deadline on DACA’ Ex-Sheriff David Clarke: Trump only one who 'cares about black American citizens' DHS chief takes heat over Trump furor MORE (D-Ill.) said Wednesday that leaders are weighing the “pros and cons” of holding a floor vote.

In a release issued Wednesday, Ben Nelson signaled he is wary of Conrad’s plan, calling for debt reduction to focus on spending cuts. 

Other Senate Democrats rallied around Conrad’s new proposal during a private lunch meeting Wednesday, where the retiring senator unveiled his long-delayed plan. 

“I like it,” said Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinDHS chief takes heat over Trump furor NSA spying program overcomes key Senate hurdle Democrats will need to explain if they shut government down over illegal immigration MORE (D-Calif.). “I don’t have all the details, but it’s clear to me that the Budget Committee and the leadership of Sen. Conrad has put together a very careful budget.”

Another Democratic senator who attended the meeting said: “Nobody spoke against it. Nobody.” 

Some Democratic senators have reservations about the sprawling plan, but they have decided to set their qualms aside for the sake of party unity. Many have realized that the internal disputes that had stymied their ability to produce a budget blueprint were becoming a political liability. 

“Everyone’s got problems with it,” said one Democratic senator. “Hell, I have problems with it. But the reaction was very positive.” 

Conrad had opted to keep the details of his blueprint under wraps while he works over the next several days to address some of those concerns. 

Democratic senators who requested anonymity said Conrad’s plan also calls for significant cuts to Pentagon spending and sets up a sizable fund for infrastructure spending.

Sen. Kay HaganKay Ruthven HaganPolitics is purple in North Carolina Democrats can win North Carolina just like Jimmy Carter did in 1976 North Carolina will be a big battleground state in 2020 MORE (D), a centrist from North Carolina, said she wants spending cuts to make up a larger percentage of the proposed savings over the next decade. 

Hagan said she would like to see a ratio similar to what the fiscal commission chaired by former Sen. Alan Simpson (R-Wyo.) and former Clinton White House Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles proposed. 

The fiscal commission suggested $2.2 trillion in discretionary and mandatory spending cuts and $785 billion in new revenues from reforming the tax code and other measures, a ratio of roughly 2.8 to 1. 

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellSessions: 'We should be like Canada' in how we take in immigrants NSA spying program overcomes key Senate hurdle Overnight Finance: Lawmakers see shutdown odds rising | Trump calls for looser rules for bank loans | Consumer bureau moves to revise payday lending rule | Trump warns China on trade deficit MORE (Ky.) in recent weeks has argued that tax increases should be taken off the table because Democrats can’t even bring themselves to vote for them. He has noted that Democrats voted to extend virtually all of the Bush tax rates last year, when they controlled the Senate and House. 

The Senate Democratic budget is designed to make a strong statement that tax revenues should be increased substantially by requiring wealthy families to pay more into federal coffers and closing special corporate tax breaks. The plan includes a tax increase for couples making more than $1 million per year. 

Senate Republican leadership aides said Wednesday they were eager to see the details of Conrad’s plan, while wasting no time in blasting Democrats for raising taxes by $2 trillion. 

Democrats argued the Conrad resolution provides a sharp contrast with the House-passed budget plan sponsored by Rep. Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanGOP leaders pitch children's health funding in plan to avert shutdown Lawmakers see shutdown’s odds rising Fix what we’ve got and make Medicare right this year MORE (R-Wis.), which would replace Medicare with what Republicans call a “premium support” plan. Democrats say Ryan would turn Medicare into a voucher system costing seniors an additional $6,400 per year. 

Durbin said Conrad’s budget proposal does not touch Social Security and has a “very small,” 10-year effect on Medicaid. “It does not savage it,” he said. The Illinois Democrat also noted that the House-passed budget cuts Medicaid spending in half. 

Durbin said that the plan’s cuts to Medicare are only $29 billion over 10 years, but later expressed some doubt about the accuracy of that number. 

Sen. Joe Lieberman (Conn.), an Independent who caucuses with Democrats, said he was worried about the size of cuts to national-security spending and questioned if the proposed Medicare cuts would do enough to extend the program’s solvency. 

Julian Pecquet and Erik Wasson contributed to this report.