Politics & Government

Senate rejects 2 partisan budget plans, setting up new talks

WASHINGTON — The Senate on Wednesday soundly rejected two partisan bids to cut federal spending this year, defeats that should clear the way for serious bipartisan negotiations over a budget compromise before the government runs out of money at the end of next week.

Both proposals needed 60 votes to pass, and neither came close. Republicans wanted to cut $61 billion from the current year's spending, while Democrats wanted a test of how their $6.5 billion counteroffer would fare.

The Republican plan lost 56-44, with all 44 votes for it from Republicans. Opposing it were 51 Democrats, two independents and three Republicans. The GOP senators who voted no were conservatives Jim DeMint of South Carolina, Mike Lee of Utah and Rand Paul of Kentucky. They wanted even deeper cuts.

The Democratic proposal got fewer votes, losing 58-42. The 42 yes votes were from 41 Democrats and one independent, but 10 Democrats — including some moderates upset about how small the cuts would be and some liberals who thought they were too deep — joined 47 Republicans and one independent to oppose the plan.

Few were pleased with the choices.

"Both bills are dead, and they deserve to be dead," said Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., who voted against both proposals. "One bill cuts too little. The other bill has too much hate. Neither one is serious."

Budget deliberations now are expected to follow several paths.

One is a resumption of talks led by Vice President Joe Biden, who's out of the country but returning Friday.

At the same time, Republicans in the House of Representatives are preparing another short-term budget bill that reportedly would cut about $2 billion per week from spending while keeping the government running until mid-April.

All the cuts, as well as those rejected Wednesday, would come from only a small piece of the budget, non-defense domestic discretionary programs, which make up only 12 percent of federal spending.

Many lawmakers would prefer a longer-term agreement that would target the big-budget programs that drive up federal debt, including Medicare and the military, even though they're popular with voters.

"It's time we come together and we solve these big problems," said Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla. "It means some senators are going to lose their seats if they do the best, right thing for America."

Coburn is one of six senators, three from each party, who've been meeting privately for weeks to draft a long-term budget overhaul. He wouldn't discuss details of their deliberations Wednesday.

Another negotiator, Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad, D-N.D., was upbeat after Wednesday's votes.

"We need recognition that we need a comprehensive, 10-year plan, and in talking to my colleagues, there's growing momentum in that direction," he said.

Any such pact would face its toughest path in the Republican-led House. On Feb. 19 it approved the $61 billion in domestic cuts for the seven remaining months of this fiscal year. They include paring such programs as job training and employment grants, health centers, high-speed rail, border security, diplomatic programs and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

In a statement of official policy Wednesday about that House bill, the White House said such cuts were unacceptable.

"If the president is presented with a bill that undermines critical priorities or national security through funding levels or restrictions, contains earmarks or curtails the drivers of long-term economic growth and job creation while continuing to burden future generations with deficits, the president will veto the bill," the White House budget office said in a statement.

(Margaret Talev contributed to this story.)


National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform

House Republican spending cuts

President Obama's 2012 budget proposal

Congressional Budget Office's budget and economic outlook


Obama's budget would add $13 trillion to national debt

House votes to fund government for 2 weeks

Behind the scenes, 6 senators work to tackle the national debt

McClatchy's Planet Washington blog