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Democrats Plan Budget to Counter GOP

Scott J. Ferrell/CQ Roll Call
Rep. Chris Van Hollen, the top Democrat on the Budget Committee, shopped around the idea of having his party do an alternative spending plan. The budget proposal will be unveiled next week.

Van Hollen’s announcement has the full backing of the Democratic leadership team. Yet while the goal is to put the Caucus on the offensive against Republicans, Democrats risk muddying their messaging going into next week’s budget floor debate since other groups, notably the Congressional Progressive Caucus and Congressional Black Caucus, are expected to come forward with their own plans by next week, according to aides. 

In an interview with Roll Call last month, Van Hollen conceded that point, acknowledging the importance of having a unified message on a Democratic budget plan.

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

The move also demonstrates a clear break from last year, when the Democratic majority spent months trying to decide whether to bring a budget blueprint to the floor and ultimately decided against doing so. The situation then was complicated by the fact that then-Budget Chairman John Spratt (D-S.C.) was facing a tough re-election battle and a detailed budget might have given his opponents ammunition. As it was, Republicans targeted Spratt for failing to bring forth a budget, and he ultimately lost his re-election bid.  

Rep. Raúl Grijalva conceded that House Democrats have learned from last year’s decision not to put forward a budget proposal. 

“I think you learn from those things, and if we don’t have anything to compare and contrast, then we just sound like we’re saying no, and I don’t think the public wants to hear that,” the Arizona Democrat said.

Several House Democrats said they supported Van Hollen’s efforts to prepare a budget for next week’s floor debate because it is important for the Caucus to draw a contrast between Ryan’s proposal and Democrats’ vision for balancing the budget.

Caucus Vice Chairman Xavier Becerra (Calif.) said there is a “big desire on the part of the Democrats to show the public the difference and how you can have different priorities and make real investments without undermining the success we’ve had in the past.”

Rep. Henry Waxman (Calif.) agreed: “I think it’s important for the Democrats to show what we would do in the next fiscal year to fund the government and make the necessary changes without savaging the safety net like Medicaid or denying seniors in the future a program that has been so important to Medicare.”

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