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Democrats in Budget Dilemma

Van Hollen Hoping to Unify Caucus on Issue

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House Budget ranking member Chris Van Hollen has been meeting with Members for six weeks to try to build party unity as the budget debate nears.

While most of Capitol Hill is focused on the partisan showdown over federal spending, House Democrats are embroiled in a separate battle: whether to produce an alternative to the GOP budget.

Democratic leaders have been holding closed-door meetings for weeks on how to proceed, but time is slipping away. Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) is slated to unveil his budget blueprint next week, and GOP leaders are expected to bring the measure to the floor shortly thereafter.

Democratic leaders are particularly sensitive about putting forth a budget this year since Republicans hammered them for months in 2010 for failing to produce one. Factions within the Democratic Caucus, meanwhile, are moving forward with plans to produce their own budget, complicating the Democratic leadership’s position even more. 

Ryan’s Democratic counterpart on the Budget panel, Rep. Chris Van Hollen, has been holding talks for the past six weeks with his fellow ranking members and leaders from the Congressional Progressive Caucus, New Democrat Coalition, the Blue Dog Coalition and the Tri-Caucus about their budget priorities.

The Maryland lawmaker has been laying the foundation for Democrats to push back against the forthcoming Republican budget, arguing that the GOP proposal would do nothing to reduce deficits in the long term and would harm the economy in the short term. 

Van Hollen said Tuesday that it is important for Democrats to have a unified message against the Republicans, but so far, they have yet to coalesce around a plan of their own.

“When you are in the minority, there are really two ways that we try to be effective. One is to draw clear contrasts and get our message out on issues that are important to the American people because how the Republicans’ approach is perceived in the House will affect its chances in the Senate,” Van Hollen said.

Van Hollen said Democrats would make a decision soon about whether to introduce a budget. He added that while he isn’t opposed to Caucus groups putting out separate budgets, he does believe it is important for Democrats to speak with one voice against the Republicans on the issue.

“I don’t have any concerns with that so long as if we were to put together a Democratic alternative, I do want a good degree of unity around that,” Van Hollen said.

While some Democrats believe they need to produce a budget alternative to counter the Republicans, others feel President Barack Obama’s budget blueprint should be the party’s plan, Democratic aides said.

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