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Murray Plans to Lead Democrats Into Budget Fray

Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Murray plans to unveil a budget next week, although her effort may be overshadowed by the coming fight over a continuing resolution to keep the government funded.

Democratic leadership aides said the Senate plans to debate the budget the week before the Easter district work period, setting up March 21 for the “vote-a-rama” on the litany of amendments allowed for under budget debate rules. Though these same aides insisted that the Senate could dispense with the CR or an omnibus bill and move on to the budget by then, it’s unclear their work will wrap so neatly. If an agreement is not imminent to avoid a government shutdown, Murray’s budget could get drowned out by the now typical back-and-forth between leaders on intransigence, brinkmanship and the possibility of economic catastrophe.

That this is a possibility makes the cornerstone of Murray’s approach all the more important. In a memo to fellow Senate Democrats obtained by CQ Roll Call, Murray outlined how she plans to use her document as a foil to the budget set to be unveiled this month by House Budget Chairman Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis.

“We don’t yet know the details of House Republicans’ updated budget plan, but assuming they keep their promises, we have a good idea about what to expect. Because they have boxed off so much of the federal budget, House Republicans will have to resort to gimmicks or make deep, extreme cuts to programs that impact families, seniors and our long-term economic strength,” the memo said. “We won’t be able to impact the budget House Republicans are preparing. But as we work on our own, and hope to find a path to a bipartisan budget agreement, the House Republicans’ extreme approach makes the need for a responsible alternative that puts middle class families first is all the more clear.”

But while Murray and Democratic leaders are pushing a unified front in preparing to introduce their budget and tackling the Ryan plan head on, not everyone in the caucus is on board. In particular, vulnerable senators up for re-election in 2014 aren’t necessarily looking forward to having to vote on a Democratic plan that carries tax increases — one reason that doing a budget has been politically difficult for Democrats over the past three years.

Murray’s focus on the Ryan budget and countering it with a budget document of her own is in large part a testament to the success of the GOP talking point that Democrats have been shirking their responsibilities by not producing a budget of their own. Last week, the GOP hammered Democrats, marking the “1,400th day since Senate Democrats passed a budget.”

In Ryan’s first two budgets, Democrats found relative success attacking the framework as extreme and devastating to entitlement programs but found themselves vulnerable to the charge that Republicans were at least trying. Especially in the absence to date of a budget from the White House, which was delayed by concurrent fights over the fiscal cliff and the sequester, the Senate Democrats’ plan will be the only game in town.

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