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Baucus Budget Vote Casts Doubt on Democratic Plan

Senate Finance chairman’s dissent on floor vote may signal resistance on tax increases until after fiscal showdown is resolved

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Baucus is one of four Senate Democrats who voted against the party’s fiscal 2014 budget resolution adopted March 23 on a 50-49 vote. The Montana senator is in the unique position of being in charge of writing the tax overhaul and revenue increases the resolution envisions.

A defiant stand by Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus against his party’s budget blueprint has raised new questions about the Democrats’ agenda for tax overhaul and deficit reduction.

The Montana lawmaker was one of four Democrats who voted against the fiscal 2014 budget resolution (S Con Res 8) adopted on a 50-49 vote in the early morning hours of March 23. His vote was of particular interest since he would be in charge of writing the tax overhaul and revenue increases the budget resolution envisions.

As the floor vote began, the six-term senator circled in front of the floor manager’s lectern to consult face-to-face with Budget Chairwoman Patty Murray, D-Wash. After a brief chat, Baucus walked toward the front of the chamber and registered his dissent with a downward sweep of his hand.

Three other Democrats also up for re-election in 2014 — Mark Begich of Alaska, Kay Hagan of North Carolina and Mark Pryor of Arkansas — voted against the budget resolution. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota said their “yes” votes indicated merely that they wanted to encourage negotiations with the House.

As he left the Capitol, Baucus made it clear the Murray budget does not represent his own fiscal outlook. “It was not sufficiently balanced. It was too lopsided,” Baucus said. “I think $1 trillion in tax increases is too much.”

The budget resolution directs the Finance Committee to prepare legislation that would increase revenue by $975 billion over 10 years. Nonbinding language endorses elimination of some tax breaks for corporations and upper-income taxpayers.

It is widely assumed that Baucus is resistant to such a tax increase for purposes of deficit reduction and replacement of automatic spending cuts because he wants to use whatever revenue-raisers that can be agreed on to offset the cost of reducing rates as part of the broad tax overhaul he has been preparing.

A senior Democratic aide predicted that Baucus will not produce tax overhaul legislation until after the next potential fiscal showdown is resolved. The Treasury’s borrowing limit, which was suspended earlier, will be reimposed on May 19 at that date’s level of indebtedness. Congressional Republicans may insist on budgetary concessions from President Barack Obama as a condition for raising the debt limit further. The issue will probably need to be resolved before Congress begins its August recess.

Baucus’ vote against a budget resolution calling for tax increases puts him once again at odds with his party’s liberal wing and Senate Democratic leaders. Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin of Illinois said he was disappointed by Baucus’ vote.

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