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Little Substance in Deficit Row

Tom Williams/Roll Call
Senate Democrats held a press conference Wednesday to promote their Sense of the Senate resolution that calls for millionaires to share in the sacrifices that Congress must implement as part of a debt and deficit pact.

Republican aides point to a measure such as Corker's CAP Act, which has a bipartisan co-sponsor in Missouri Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill. That bill would set hard limits on discretionary spending and might prove to be an amendment that Reid will find difficult to refuse.

Democrats, however, don't want to let Republicans off that easy.

The purpose of the Sense of the Senate resolution for them is twofold: provide a vehicle for discussing the budget debate that forced the Senate to cancel its July Fourth recess and pin the Republicans as supportive of millionaires and billionaires at the expense of the burgeoning federal debt and middle-class Americans.

As top leaders meet at the White House with President Barack Obama today, the Senate's rank and file will wrangle for the upper hand in sending a message down Pennsylvania Avenue and influencing the debate.

"We're not going to let them load this down with messaging amendments," Reid spokesman Adam Jentleson said. "We think it's sad that Republicans are scared to vote on the simple proposition that millionaires and billionaires should contribute in a balanced approach to deficit reduction."

Democratic aides insist they've already held votes on "real" proposals, pointing to their repeated attempts to eliminate gas, oil and ethanol tax subsidies. And while some inside the Capitol have grumbled privately about the weakness of the nonbinding measure ó it does not target any specific tax provision, such as breaks for corporate jets ó it's broad enough to garner support of the entire Democratic caucus.

With several Democrats, such as Sens. Ben Nelson (Neb.) and Joe Manchin
(W.Va.), expressing reservations about increasing revenues as part of any debt and deficit deal, a simple message that unites the party was important for Reid to craft, Democrats said.

"That's probably the reason it was written the way it was," one Democratic aide suggested. "Some people who are in cycle would be inclined to support the continuation of certain tax cuts for their specific electoral reasons."

Democrats view today's vote as a win-win for the party: Either Republicans join Democrats in debating theoretical budget solutions on the floor or they decline to do so and provide fodder for 30-second ad spots in the next election.

But as the clock winds down on the budget debate, and Congress hurtles toward the Treasury Department's Aug. 2 deadline to raise the debt limit, Republicans don't seem frightened by the prospect of campaign commercials.

National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn (Texas) scoffed at the idea that Members were spending their time on a nonbinding "phony proposal that's not intended to do something" and dismissed Democrats for trying to demagogue the issue, even as his own party was planning to counter with partisan votes that effectively would achieve the same means.

"You mean it's meaningless?" Cornyn teased reporters Wednesday. "I prefer to see something that's actually meaningful and not meaningless. A Sense of the Senate, as you know, doesn't change anything. And so I think it's just kind of a cynical move."

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