Murray unites panel Dems behind budget

Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray (D-Wash.) has united the Democrats on her panel behind the first budget moving through the chamber in four years, committee aides say.

Gaining the support of all 12 committee members who caucus with Democrats – including Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Angus King (I-Maine) — was a key first goal for Murray. A single defection would stop the budget in its tracks if GOP panel members, as expected, all vote "no."

ADVERTISEMENT
To win over a diverse group of members that includes the socialist Sanders and centrists like King and Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), Murray used vague language, particularly on taxes.

For example, Murray does not specify which tax breaks would be cut to supply $975 billion in new revenues from eliminating deductions, exclusions or credits.

The maneuver might have helped Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), who fretted about singling out oil-and-gas tax breaks, to support the budget measure, as she says she will.

The Senate budget also does not call for — or rule out — a minimum tax on millionaires, known as the Buffett Rule. Sanders and many other liberals favor that measure, while centrist and conservative Democrats, including Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.), are cool to it.

Sanders said he would support the budget even though he would have preferred higher tax hikes. He called the budget “a step in the right direction.”

“I would have gone much further by making sure that at least 50 percent of deficit reduction since 2010 was achieved by raising revenue from the wealthy and large corporations,” he said.

The budget calls for $265 billion in cuts to Medicare, but does not specify the cuts other than to say they cannot hurt beneficiaries — something Sanders ruled out entirely.

Warner called Murray’s budget “credible” in announcing his support, although he said he would have done more to reduce entitlement spending.

“I also believe, and this has caused some consternation on my side, I do think we can do more in the eventual compromise on entitlement reform,” Warner said. “We’ve got to keep this process moving forward.”

Overall, Murray’s budget appears to cut between $650 billion and $1.85 trillion from deficits, depending on which baseline math is used. The budget has not been officially scored.

Murray says the budget cuts $1.85 trillion from deficits. This figure does not count turning off $960 billion in sequester cuts, and it includes $240 billion in interest savings.

“Our budget reflects the pro-growth, pro-middle-class agenda that the American people went to the polls in support of last election,” Murray said. “I am hopeful that the House of Representatives will join us at the bargaining table and we can work together toward the responsible and bipartisan budget deal the American people expect and deserve. “

In contrast with House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan’s (R-Wis.) budget, which would balance in 10 years by cutting $5.7 trillion in spending, Murray’s budget will not balance. But it will put the deficit on a sustainable path, according to Democrats.

It would reduce the budget deficit from $891 billion this year to $566 billion in 2023.

Democrats say the ratio of 2.2 percent deficit to gross domestic product is sustainable because it is smaller than the estimated growth rate of the economy.

Murray argues that when you count $1.8 trillion in spending cuts and $600 billion in new taxes from the last Congress, her plan is the type of $4 trillion deficit-reduction package experts have called for.

This argument appealed to King.

He said he was comfortable with the $975 billion in tax hikes, and that there were significant spending cuts as well. If the Democratic budget is combined with the deficit-reduction plans passed since the summer of 2011, it comes to about 60 percent cuts and 40 percent revenues, he said.

“That’s about where I think it should be,” King said. “I was always a supporter of Simpson-Bowles. And that’s about the approach they had — something like $2 of cuts for every dollar of revenue. That’s where this package lands.”

The Senate panel began a markup Wednesday that is expected to conclude Thursday, setting up a floor vote next week.

Some Democrats outside the Budget Committee are still not entirely committed to the plan, leading aides to believe there will be amendments when the budget comes to the floor next week.

Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) said the Murray effort was “not perfect,” but “certainly better than hocus pocus, which is kind of what the Ryan budget is.”

McCaskill told The Hill that she could not commit to being a firm "yes" yet, but that she generally supported the Senate Democratic budget.

“I may have a little bit of tweaking I think is important to do,” said the Missouri Democrat, who won reelection last year as GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney carried the state.

Republicans criticized Murray, with Ryan saying her budget ignored the debt. 

"Their budget never balances—ever. It simply takes more from hardworking families to spend more in Washington," he said. "It continues the raid on Medicare. And it imperils the health and retirement security our seniors need." 

Senate Budget Committee Ranking Member Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) noted that the budget would spend $162 billion more in 2014 than currently is the case for 2013 under sequestration and that using a GOP baseline, the budget increases spending. 

"Their proposal increases the federal budget from $3.6 trillion today to $5.7 trillion 10 years from now—an increase of 62 percent. Excluding war costs, this represents a net increase of $645 billion above the projected surging spending growth in our existing baseline," he said.

Murray's budget would turn off the $960 billion in sequester cuts over nine years, and would cut $142 billion in non-defense discretionary spending by extending existing ceilings on spending for two years at the end of the 10-year budget window.

Murray would leave it to appropriators to specify the cuts, an approach Ryan also took with the House budget.

The budget would cut $76 billion in “other mandatory” spending, including $23 billion from farm payments. It would also cut $240 billion from base defense spending — keeping about half the cuts called for by sequestration.

Overall, the budget has only 11 pages focused on spending cuts, compared to 39 pages focused on detailing $100 billion in new economic stimulus spending.

That spending includes $50 billion in high-priority infrastructure repairs, $10 billion for ports, $10 billion for an infrastructure bank, $20 billion for technology infrastructure and $10 billion for worker training.

The text lambastes the House GOP budget, arguing Democrats are protecting the middle class from “draconian” cuts.

The budget does contain reconciliation instructions to the Senate Finance Committee to reform the tax code by Oct. 1. The instructions are simple, only requiring that the tax code reform reduce deficits by $975 billion.

The budget itself calls on the tax code to remain as progressive as it is now, in terms of the difference between the lowest and highest tax brackets.

“Responsible reductions in tax rates could be achieved, but only if the Senate Budget’s revenue and progressivity goals are achieved or maintained,” it states.

To cut $10 billion from Medicaid without hurting beneficiaries, it recommends selling off 14,000 excess properties, reducing improper payments and consulting Government Accountability Office studies to find more cuts.