(Photo: REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst)
The Senate has adopted by a razor-thin margin its first budget in four years, a $3.7 trillion blueprint for 2014 that embraces nearly $1 trillion in tax increases over the coming decade while protecting domestic programs House Republicans have targeted for cuts.
None of the Republicans voted for the Senate plan, and even four Democrats voted against it, all of who face re-election next year: Sens. Max Baucus of Montana, Mark Begich of Alaska, Kay Hagan of North Carolina and Mark Pryor of Arkansas. Democratic Sen. Frank Lautenberg from New Jersey abstained from voting.
"The Senate has passed a budget," the Senate Budget Committee chairwoman, Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, declared at 4:56 a.m. on Saturday. The budget plan was passed by a 50-49 vote after debates on scores of symbolic amendments that began Friday afternoon continued for about 13 hours.
Unlike the Republican plan from House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, which would balance the budget over the coming decade through steep cuts, the Senate plan seeks to revoke $1.2 trillion in automatic spending cuts mainly through the savings.
Neither of the plans is likely to pass in the opposing chamber, and Congress continues to face sharp differences over reducing U.S. deficits.
"The Senate passed a budget plan that will create jobs and cut the deficit in a balanced way," the White House said in a statement. "Like the president's plan, the Senate budget cuts wasteful spending, makes tough choices to strengthen entitlements, and eliminates special tax breaks and loopholes for the wealthiest Americans to reduce the deficit."
"We have presented very different visions for how our country should work and who it should work for," The Associated Press quoted Sen. Murray as saying. "But I am hopeful that we can bridge this divide."
However, Sen. Jeff Sessions, the top Republican on the Senate Budget Committee, said, "The House budget changes our debt course, while the Senate budget does not." He added, "I believe we're in denial about the financial condition of our country. Trust me, we've got to have some spending reductions."
Sen. Murray said she would try to work with Ryan on a path toward compromise. "While it is clear that the policies, values, and priorities of the Senate budget are very different than those articulated in the House budget, I know the American people are expecting us to work together to end the gridlock and find common ground, and I plan to continue doing exactly that," Reuters quoted her as saying.
The government's borrowing limit will need to be extended again this summer to avert a default, which would lead to fierce negotiations.
In April, President Obama is expected to release his budget plan, which could indicate how far his party would like to go in negotiations with Republicans.
Though non-binding, the amendments senators considered late Friday and early Saturday indicated the political mood.
The amendments voted for include giving states more powers to collect sales taxes on online purchases from out-of-state Internet companies, supporting elimination of the $2,500 annual cap on flexible spending account contributions imposed by Obama's health care overhaul, and charging regular postal rates for mailings by political parties. The senators also endorsed the proposed Keystone XL pipeline that is to pump oil from Canada to Texas refineries.