Senate, House Finally Pass Budget Blueprint, End Weeks of Drama

Posted April 29, 2009 at 6:31pm

The Senate on Wednesday night passed the 2010 budget resolution, 53-43, without any Republican votes in favor, giving President Barack Barack Obama a high-profile capstone to his first 100 days in office.

The Senate vote ends months of drama over how to advance Obama’s priorities and whether to use the hardball tactic known as reconciliation to avoid Senate filibusters and pass bills with just 51 Senate votes.

The $3.4 trillion blueprint includes reconciliation for health care and education legislation, although Democratic leaders said they would only use the tactic as a last resort and would prefer a bipartisan deal. And they promised that they would not use the procedure to advance controversial cap-and-trade legislation to limit carbon emissions.

The House voted earlier in the day, 233-193, to back the budget blueprint, which sets limits for legislation to follow, including the annual appropriations bills.

Four Democratic Senators, including newly minted Democratic Sen. Arlen Specter (Pa.), opposed the budget resolution. Sens. Evan Bayh (Ind.), Robert Byrd (W.Va.) and Ben Nelson (Neb.) also voted against it.

Specter had objected to the inclusion of fast-track reconciliation rules.

Democratic leaders, meanwhile, said their budget plan would set the country on a far different path than that charted by former President George W. Bush, one that would invest significantly in health care, energy and education.

The blueprint sets the stage for a wholesale reform of the nation’s health care system, continued tax cuts for the middle class and higher tax rates for those making more than $250,000. It also predicts the largest budget deficits in the history of the country, although the blueprints presume that those deficits will drop significantly within five years.

“This is the starting point for every one of [Obama’s] priorities,— said Senate Budget Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), who praised the president’s team despite what he said were often hard-fought negotiations. (White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel gave Conrad a new food dish for his new dog, Conrad said.).

Conrad added that major tax reform and entitlement reform efforts are needed to close the long-term deficits.

The budget chairman also said he had assurances from key players that they would do everything they could to try and pass health care without using the fast-track procedures, which he predicted would ultimately not be used for health care.

One key issue remains unresolved — that of passing pay-as-you-go rules, which require lawmakers to offset new entitlement spending and tax cuts. Conrad has long supported PAYGO, but Senate leaders refused to promise a vote on a bill. Conrad said there are downsides to requiring PAYGO rules in law because it would give the White House Office of Management and Budget the authority to enforce the rules.

But House leaders have warned the Senate that they will not take up legislation extending tax cuts and avoiding cuts to doctors’ pay unless they are offset, and Obama has also thrown his weight behind the PAYGO effort.

Those assurances were key to getting support for the budget from the fiscally conservative Blue Dog Democrats in the House.