Senate Dems: Vote on budget this week

Senate Democrats say they will force a final vote on their 2014 budget before leaving for Easter recess at the end of this week.

But given the time constraints associated with work on the six-month 2013 funding resolution, this could mean dozens of rare Senate floor votes on Saturday and Sunday.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) often threatens the Senate with weekend work and rarely follows through, but this time it appears the schedule could force his hand.

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“There will be no more talk of not having a budget,” Reid said Tuesday. “We’re going to have one before we leave here for recess.”

Under Senate rules, the budget resolution can be subjected to virtually unlimited amendments. The GOP says Reid is trying to use late-night and weekend votes to wear down Republicans’ appetite for amendments.

Reid on Tuesday tried to start 50 hours of debate on the budget while the clock was ticking down on the six-month continuing resolution (CR). Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) blocked the move, partly in an attempt to force a vote on an aviation provision he supports. 

Democrats had hoped to start floor work on the budget Monday, but that was delayed because of work on the 2013 spending resolution.

An aide explained that the Senate has to burn up to 60 hours of post-cloture debate time on the CR, which could push the final vote to Thursday.

On Monday night, Reid successfully invoked cloture on the continuing resolution when 10 Republicans, mostly from the Appropriations Committee, backed limiting debate.

Reid is ruling out punting the budget until after the two-week recess.

“To be clear, we will do the budget this week, one way or the other,” a Senate Democratic aide said Tuesday. “Sen. Reid has said he will keep the Senate in session over the weekend if CR delays make it necessary to do so in order to complete the budget. Hopefully, we will work out a time agreement on the CR and that won’t be necessary, but it’s up to Republicans.”

On April 8, President Obama is expected to submit his own budget, and if the Senate does not pass a budget by April 15, senators’ paychecks will be withheld under the terms of the January debt-ceiling agreement. 

A paycheck stoppage could create bad publicity for Democrats,  who have not passed a budget resolution in the Senate for four years.

Democratic aides called it “ironic” that Republicans, who have blasted Senate Democrats for missing budget deadlines, are trying to cause further delays. 

The GOP argues that it has legitimate concerns with pork-barrel spending in the CR and is pushing for opportunities to amend the $984 billion spending bill. 

The Senate Democratic budget, authored by Budget Committee Chairman Patty Murray (D-Wash.), raises nearly $1 trillion in new tax revenue, but it still increases spending if its cancellation of nine years of sequestration cuts are taken into account. Democrats argue their budget would reduce spending by $975 billion under the baseline used by Murray, which doesn’t factor in sequestration.

Republicans plan to offer the House budget authored by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) as an amendment to the Senate bill, along with dozens more designed to trap vulnerable red-state Democrats into making tough votes.

The GOP says Reid is itching to use inconvenient sessions to limit budget amendments. 

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“But he’s mistaken if he thinks the GOP will fold. But he can push the amendments into hours very inconvenient for the media, the senators themselves and the public,” a GOP aide said. 

Senate Budget Committee ranking member Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) suggested Tuesday that instead of working through the weekend, the Senate could take up the budget resolution after its two-week recess.

Sessions pointed out that the No Budget, No Pay Act passed earlier this year gives senators until April 15 to pass a budget before their pay is withheld.

Reid rejected Sessions’s argument in comments to reporters.

“Sen. Sessions, who was on the floor today saying, ‘I’ve got a great idea; we’ll wait till after Easter to do this, spend a week; that’s all it would take,’ — not a chance,” he said. “We’re going to move forward on this. This is the debate the Republicans have wanted, so let’s have them stop stalling, and let’s have the debate.”

With spending bill votes coming one way or another Thursday, Congress appeared to be on track to avert a March 28 government shutdown.

The House of Representatives is poised to approve the $984 billion Senate stopgap spending bill as soon as it makes its way out of the Senate.

“I like what I see so far,” House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) told The Hill on Tuesday.

He said that it is “likely” that the full House will take up the Senate’s continuing resolution without changes.

It would be brought straight to the floor under a closed rule forbidding changes. Aides said final decisions will be made once House Republican leaders see what amendments make it onto the bill. So far, no poison pills have been added, they said.

On Tuesday, Reid attempted to speed up movement toward final passage by allowing two amendments: one by Sens. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) and Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) and one by Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.)

The Blunt-Pryor amendment would close a funding gap for the Food Safety and Inspection Service and ensure that food inspectors are not furloughed due to the sequestration cuts that went into effect March 1.

The Toomey amendment would increase the Pentagon’s operating budget by $60 million by decreasing funds for biofuels and maintenance.

Reid’s attempt was blocked by Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), who wanted a vote on his amendment to reverse cuts affecting air traffic control towers. 

“I think his amendment is pretty good. But once you allow one, then you have to allow more,” Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) said of Moran’s provision. “We are moving along. I think we’ll prevail.”

Shelby said he believed the House will pass the Senate’s continuing resolution.

“I think they know the rules. They know what to do. I think we will fund the government,” he said. “I hope we’re close to done.”

Updated at 7:44 p.m. and 8:17 p.m.