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Democrats’ Budget Hemmed in by Bush, Elections

But the aide cautioned that budget will set the stage for the Democrats’ next efforts to stimulate the economy through extended funding for unemployment benefits and additional money for low-income home heating assistance and food stamps.

“It’s critical to have a budget. It sets our priorities for the year,” echoed another Senate Democratic aide. “You’ve got to prepare the fight to have the fight.”

Still, there will be some fights that even Democrats don’t want to have, and discussion at the leadership level already has begun on whether to allow Democrats to vote for some of the anticipated tax-cut proposals that Republicans plan to offer on the Senate floor.

“We may not be holding our Members en bloc on some of these things,” the senior Senate Democratic aide said.

A little freedom to vote for feel-good tax cuts might be just the thing some fence-sitting Democrats need to persuade them to stick with the party on more difficult votes to make the entirety of the Bush tax cuts permanent and other GOP priorities.

Some rank-and-file Senate Democrats already are questioning expected votes later in the year on an expected budget reconciliation bill that would cut Medicare Advantage subsidies to ensure Medicare doctors do not see a 10 percent pay cut in the coming year.

Democrats, meanwhile, will have to tiptoe around splits in their caucus on the Iraq War and on pay-as-you-go rules. As in last year’s resolution, Democrats are expected to provide funding for the president’s requests for war funding without actually using the word “Iraq,” in a nod to Democrats who have vowed to oppose more money for the war.

Less clear is how much fidelity Democrats will show to PAYGO. They talked about fiscal restraint last year, only to toss PAYGO overboard when alternative minimum tax relief was on the floor. This year, they have exempted the massive stimulus package from PAYGO as well. Key Democrats are telegraphing another AMT patch without offsets this year, and Senate Democrats are looking to pass another stimulus package without offsets as well.

A senior House Republican aide said they will be attacking the Democratic budget as bloated while setting the stage for a massive tax increase — much as they did last year.

“Making the budget into a Christmas tree for their out-of- touch spending and policy priorities plays to our advantage,” the aide said.

“Any discussion about bloated spending paid for through increased taxes on hardworking Americans is a fight we want to have and is a fight we are going to have.”

A House Democratic leadership aide said, however, that the Democratic budget would ensure that middle-class tax cuts are provided.

“If they think that the American people would actually believe that Democrats do not support middle-class tax cuts, then I have a bridge I want to sell them in Alaska,” the aide said.

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