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Democrats Outline Floor Strategy for Budget Battle

Sanders, foreground, and Schumer briefed reporters on their response to the GOP budget last week. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Senate and House Democrats face different challenges in responding to the budget blueprints on the floors of their respective chambers, but they're operating from much the same playbook.  

The budget resolutions, which both moved through the House and Senate budget committees last week with customary party-line support, are indisputably political documents, which will give each side fodder leading in to the two-week recess at the beginning of April.  

In the Senate, Democrats intend to focus particular attention on "meat and potato" policy issues in this year's budget vote-a-rama . That's how Senate Democratic messaging guru Charles E. Schumer described the Democratic plan last week.  

The marathon session of voting is expected to take place Thursday.  

"This is not an appropriations bill. But what it does is put people on the record in terms of where they stand. And it allows their constituents back home to know whether they’re going to stand with working families or whether they stand with millionaires and billionaires," Budget ranking member Bernard Sanders said. "To the degree that we pass resolutions, that we pass amendments, this will in the future be incorporated into real legislation that will in fact impact the American people."  

"We've seen Republicans are totally divided on their budgets in both houses. They can't decide how extreme that they want to be," Schumer said.  

That potential problem is particularly apparent in the House, where that chamber's budget resolution markup faced an overnight delay Thursday in a dispute over an amendment that would have increased defense spending through the war-funding account known in budget parlance as overseas contingency operations.  

Sanders, an independent from Vermont who caucuses with Democrats, briefed reporters with Schumer Thursday afternoon. That was before the Senate budget resolution got through the committee on a party-line 12 to 10 vote following the adoption of an amendment offered by GOP Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire that increased the level of defense spending through the OCO account by $38 billion.  

Speaking on a conference call Friday organized by the Center for American Progress Action Fund, Budget Committee member Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., said to expect the accounting of the national security spending to be a point of contention during this week's floor debate.  

"The strategy on the floor will reflect the strategy in committee. That is, we want to highlight the things that are simply wrong with this budget. We will now highlight something that we didn't highlight in committee because it didn't exist when we went to committee, and that was the Senate Republicans joining the House Republicans in using an off-budget mechanism to fund the defense-side programs, while they're cutting non-defense programs," Merkley said. "It certainly should be at a minimum an on-budget proposal."  

Like Sanders and Schumer a day before, Merkley pointed to traditional issues as the focal points of the Democratic response.  

"We'll highlight through various amendments the impact on seniors and through the attack on Medicare, the impact on the struggling Americans, the impact on food stamps and Medicaid. We'll certainly highlight the inequality and ... the egregiously sweet deal that the best off are getting under the Republican vision of the world," Merkley said. "We'll fight for specific things like better health care and better education and better infrastructure."  

But that won't be all. Asked about the prospects for energy and climate amendments Thursday, Sanders said, "the idea that you have the dominant political party in Congress rejecting what the overwhelming majority of scientists are saying on the most important environmental issue facing the planet is embarrassing."  

Merkley joined the ranking Democrat on the House Budget Committee, Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, for the Friday conference call, and while under Senate rules Democrats may offer an unlimited number of amendments to the budget resolution, Van Hollen must take a different approach in the House, bundling a panoply of proposals into a single amendment.  

"I will propose as I have every year since I've been ranking member a Democratic alternative budget. I'll offer that on behalf of the Democratic Caucus. It will stand in stark contrast to the Republican budget," Van Hollen said. "It will adopt many of the president's proposals, but also some others."  

Van Hollen said the House Democratic blueprint will feature President Barack Obama's proposal for child and dependent care tax credits, as well as the White House proposal on taxes paid by households that have two earners.  

Separate from the Obama budget, Van Hollen says the House Democratic Caucus plan will feature a proposal regarding the tax treatment of performance bonuses paid to corporate executives that exceed $1 million.  

Sarah Chacko contributed to this report. Related: Graham, McCain Want More War Money in Senate Budget Start Preparing Now for the Budget Vote-A-Rama Little Hope for Bipartisanship With Lynch, Budget Ahead The 114th: CQ Roll Call's Guide to the New Congress Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call in your inbox or on your iPhone.