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Senate Democrats Muted on Obama Budget

Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call
Democratic Senators such as Kent Conrad (at podium) have been circumspect in their remarks about President Barack Obama's proposed 2013 budget in part because budget issues could present risks to Senators' re-election efforts.

The political nature of a budget is nothing new. And in an election year with a divided Congress, there’s virtually no chance Obama’s plan — or any budget blueprint — will be adopted by Congress. Instead, the exercise would merely open vulnerable Senate Democrats up to countless budget amendment votes that could possibly be used against them in their re-election campaigns.

Given that reality, the lack of a warm embrace from Reid’s fellow Democrats was not surprising.

Senate Budget Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) was circumspect, saying in a statement that Obama’s budget was “moving the country in the right direction” given the economic downturn that predated him. Conrad did credit Obama and Democrats with helping to stabilize the situation, but he indicated that Obama’s budget lacked ambition.

“We will need to do more to put the nation on a sustainable long-term fiscal path,” he said. “The only true way forward is through a comprehensive and balanced deficit reduction agreement.”

Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) was also noncommittal. He said in a statement: “While I don’t agree with the entirety of his request, his budget works toward deficit reduction by meeting the deep automatic spending cuts that were set into motion last year. It is also a strong endorsement for future job creation.”

Even worse were statements from Members such as Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Mark Pryor (D-Ark.), who rejected it outright.

Pryor — who is up for re-election this year — said, “This budget proposal is simply a case of misplaced priorities when it comes to Arkansas.”

Murray was one of only a handful of Senate Democrats to actually praise the budget, saying it would invest in “jobs, training, and infrastructure to get our economy back on track and our workers back on the job” and would raise taxes on the wealthy to provide balance to the sacrifice Americans would need to make.

On the other side of the Capitol, Democrats embraced the budget.

Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Steve Israel (N.Y.) hailed the budget as showing Democrats’ “top priority is to rebuild the middle class by creating jobs and investing in infrastructure and education. Republicans’ top priority is to protect the ultra-wealthy and to make sure the privileged few don’t have to sacrifice a dime, leaving America’s seniors to pay more for their hard-earned Medicare.”

Republicans were quick to hammer the administration.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said the plan is nothing more than a campaign document.

Americans “deserve to know why the president’s own party doesn’t want to vote on it,” McConnell said on the Senate floor. “And why his own top advisers are trying to deflect serious questions about what’s really going on here.”

McConnell has said he will introduce Obama’s plan himself and force a vote on it in the Senate in the coming months.

White House officials in recent days have sought to downplay the move by Senate Democratic leaders to forgo a budget debate, and on Monday, they seemed to acknowledge the political nature of their own efforts.

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