Senate to Hold Test Votes on Spending Cuts

by Andrew Stiles

Following Thursday’s meeting with White House officials, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) wants to hold votes next week on two proposals to cut spending and keep the government funded through September 30 — the White House/Senate Democratic plan (here) and the already-passed House Republican plan, H.R. 1. The Democratic plan would cut federal spending by a little over $6 billion, compared the GOP plan to cut $61 billion.

Speaking on the senate floor, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) called the Democratic plan “unserious” and “indefensible” for its refusal to make meaningful cuts. “Amid all the fanfare yesterday, what the White House is proposing is little more than one more proposal to maintain the status quo — to give the appearance of action where there is none,” McConnell said. “The American people are tired of hearing the same tired talking points for our Democratic friends….It’s time for Washington Democrats to get serious.”

The Democrats’ counteroffer is indeed patently ridiculous, particularly in the sense that they claim to be meeting Republicans half way. Democrats argue that by passing a continuing resolution to keep the government funded at 2010 levels, which are about $40 billion less than what President Obama asked for in his 2011 budget, they have “already cut” that $40 billion. Add another $6 billion on top of the $4 billion cut as part of a short-term spending resolution passed earlier this week, and Democrats say they’re half way to the GOP’s $100 billion “Pledge to America.” This laughable claim earned “two Pinocchios” from the Washington Post.

That said, neither proposal is expected to get the 60 votes needed to break a filibuster, and in many ways that is precisely the reason for holding the votes — to convince both sides of the need for compromise. “If H.R. 1 doesn’t pass — and it won’t pass — and if ours doesn’t pass, we at least know where we stand,” Reid said on the senate floor, adding that once the test votes had been recorded, lawmakers could “move this ball down the road a little further.” The Democratic leader has frequently denounced the GOP plan as “draconian” and “mean-spirited.”

Reid and McConnell will consult and discuss with their members over the weekend in preparation for the votes, tentatively scheduled for next Tuesday. Assuming both votes fails (they will), congress has until March 18 to iron out a deal — some middle point between “unserious” and “draconian” — or else the government will shut down.

One major point of contention will be the numerous policy riders attached to the Republican bill, for example the measures to defund Obamacare, Planned Parenthood and aspects of the EPA. Republicans will need to decide how many of these measures, if any, they’ll be willing to part with as part of a compromise. On the other hand, Democrats will need to get over their love affair with federal spending and accept cuts greater than the equivalent of two months’ worth of interest on the stimulus package ($6 billion). However, at the moment there appears to be only one thing Democrats can agree on.

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