(Bloomberg News) The U.S. Senate rejected a Republican plan to cut $61 billion from the federal budget, as well as a competing Democratic plan, in votes designed to pressure House Republicans to compromise in their push to slash government spending.
Lawmakers defeated 44-56 a measure, approved last month by the Republican-dominated House, that would impose double-digit reductions on scores of programs. The Democratic plan, defeated 42-58, calls for roughly one-tenth the amount of cuts.
Democratic Senate leaders intend for the votes to demonstrate to members, especially House Republican freshmen seeking big spending reductions, that neither party has the votes to impose its will.
"It isn't often that two failed votes in the Senate could be called a breakthrough," Senator Charles Schumer of New York, the chamber's third-ranking Democrat, said earlier today. "Once it is plain that both parties' opening bids in this budget debate are non-starters, we can finally get serious about sitting down and narrowing the huge gap that exists between the two sides."
Current spending authority expires March 18, and lawmakers are negotiating over funding the rest of the government's fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30.
Senate Democrats are pushing for savings in areas in addition to the domestic "discretionary" spending targeted by the House. Schumer said today that lawmakers should consider a surtax on millionaires, rescinding tax breaks for oil companies, and cuts in programs such as Medicaid. He and other Democratic leaders were to meet today with President Barack Obama at the White House to discuss their next move.
Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the third-ranking House Republican, said yesterday his colleagues are preparing a new stopgap budget measure that would buy lawmakers as much as another month to agree on spending through September.
Additional delays in reaching a budget agreement boost the odds that the debate will merge with a looming battle over raising the federal debt limit, which the Treasury Department said will be reached between April 15 and May 31.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, scoffed today at Democratic proposals to close the budget gap by raising taxes.