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Senate Democrats Wary of Budget Fights

Senate Democrats, wary of losing control of the chamber and weary from a year of battle, appear apprehensive about taking another round of show votes on Republican budgets doomed to fail.

It’s a far cry from last year when both Democrats and Republicans were chomping at the bit to vote on the budget resolution crafted by House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and approved by the GOP-controlled lower chamber. But this year, with 24 of the 33 seats in cycle currently held by Senators who caucus with Democrats, the party seems annoyed by the prospects of taking political votes on any terms but their own.

Late last month, Democrats futilely attempted to secure a ruling from the Senate parliamentarian to keep budgets from receiving votes on the floor by asking whether they could use last summer’s Budget Control Act to block further GOP action. The bungled strategic move to get the ruling, which many Democratic aides said they never thought would go in their favor, reveals more about the party’s general aversion to making vulnerable, in-cycle Members take tough political votes than anything else.

Few, if any, Democrats publicly support the Ryan budget, but not passing their own budget has left them open to sustained Republican attacks over their unwillingness to set spending priorities for the next year. The sweeping Budget Control Act set discretionary spending levels for upcoming fiscal years more definitively than any nonbinding resolution could; still, budgets also deal with mandatory spending and set priorities for committee action, in some cases.

“If they want to force votes on budget resolutions, we’ll be happy to have votes on theirs,” one Democratic leadership aide said.

But another senior Democratic aide said the parliamentarian’s ruling undercut the party’s message that last year’s Budget Control Act is the budget. The senior aide said the party simply should have allowed the GOP to bring up its resolutions and vote them down as they did last year.

“It undercuts the argument we’ve been making for seven months,” the aide said, adding that “the whole notion that we were somehow going to avoid this process was a little naive.”

Under Senate rules, any Senator can force such a vote after April 1, and only 51 votes are needed to force a budget to the floor. Any budget resolution this year would likely be a pointless exercise given the intractable differences with House Republicans, but a full debate on a budget resolution — any budget resolution — would give the GOP a double-barreled political bonanza. They’d be able to point to the record deficits under President Barack Obama and force a “vote-a-rama.” During Senate budget debates, amendment votes are not limited. A budget vote-a-rama could expose Democratic divides on dozens of politically volatile issues, ranging from the Keystone XL pipeline to immigration to drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

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