Murray argues against austerity at debut Budget hearing

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To pass a budget out of committee, Murray will need to avoid any “no” votes on her side if all the Republicans stick together. That will mean crafting a budget that pleases socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and pro-defense deficit hawk Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.).

Unlike some liberals in her party, Murray did not say there is no spending or debt problem on Tuesday. She emphasized that CBO’s report does see the debt at an unsustainably high level. But unlike previous Budget Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), who retired last year, Murray put a stronger emphasis on near-term lackluster economic growth. CBO sees unemployment remaining above 7.5 percent into 2014, the longest such stretch since the Great Depression. 

“On the other hand, your report makes clear that the economy still faces significant headwinds in the short term, particularly from the tightening of federal fiscal policy,” Murray said, noting that the looming sequester and the end of the payroll tax break — along with new taxes on the wealthy — this year are estimated to halve economic growth to 1.4 percent. 

Committee Ranking Member Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) used the hearing to outline his own demands, including that the committee complete a budget by the legal deadline of April 1 and that there be at least 50 hours of debate on the floor.

Sessions said Murray had “hurt” his feelings by comments suggesting the GOP is a party more concerned with the wealthy than the poor. 

“I resent the idea that those of us who have a different view on how to help poor people somehow don’t care about them,” he said. He said cities like Baltimore are examples of a culture of dependency and crime that can only be stopped by changing welfare programs and fostering economic growth. 

During the hearing. Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) asked Elmendorf if he had scored a proposal from President Obama to replace the looming $85 billion sequester that Obama and Republicans agree harms national security.

Elmendorf replied “we have not seen a specific proposal” and GOP operatives quickly seized on the exchange to highlight the absence of a White House legislative package.

Senate Democrats are working this week to produce their own package of replacement cuts and tax increases and expect to unveil it on Thursday.