Prospects for President Barack Obama’s budget priorities are dimming as moderate Democrats in both chambers look to trim his spending and slow his plans for a cap on carbon emissions.
Obama’s $3.6 trillion budget blueprint has come under fire by the fiscally conservative Blue Dog Coalition in the House, which wants to limit domestic discretionary spending to the rate of inflation — far less than Obama wants. And with Senate Budget Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) also looking to pare back spending and retard the explosion of debt in the wake of bleaker budget projections from the Congressional Budget Office, some of Obama’s priorities are likely to end up on the cutting room floor.
Other Democrats are pushing to keep the spending at Obama’s request. “His budget spends more money, but it is being more honest about it,— said a House Democratic aide. “It’s not for crazy things. It’s stuff he campaigned on — it’s health care, environment and education.—
And a House Democratic leadership aide said the House budget bill will still reflect Obama’s top agenda items.
“We have to deal with the crisis that we’re facing now, and then in the long term we can deal with the deficit. We have long-ignored priorities, and if we don’t take care of them we won’t have the economic growth we need in the future,— this aide said.
But backers of a higher spending number are hampered because Obama hasn’t yet sent his detailed budget to Congress with line-item detail — so it’s harder to tell Members exactly what they are voting for.
The House and Senate Budget committees will mark up the budget later this week, with floor action to follow. Both chambers are hoping to wrap up work on the massive proposal before Members leave town for the two-week spring recess that begins on April 3.
Many liberal Democrats have sought to include fast-track protections in the budget bill for health care reform or climate change legislation, but those efforts now appear on life support.
Conrad told CBS’ “Face the Nation— he will not include reconciliation in his budget proposal for either health care or climate, arguing that the fast-track procedure should be reserved for deficit reduction. Reconciliation allows the Senate to fast-track budget priorities because it requires just 51 “aye— votes for passage, rather than the typical 60 to avert a filibuster.
Despite Conrad’s assertion, talk persists on the House side of trying to move forward with reconciliation. Health care reform appears to be a much better bet than cap-and-trade provisions — House Blue Dogs and moderate Senators have both penned letters against using reconciliation for cap-and-trade.
Under one scenario, the Senate could pass its budget initially without fast-track rules but include them in a House-Senate conference report.
Senate Republicans are already anticipating such a move, with Sen. Judd Gregg (N.H.), ranking member of the Budget Committee, calling it a “game.— Gregg said keeping the fast-track reconciliation rules out of the initial Senate resolution would be a mere “Pyrrhic victory and a little bit disingenuous.—
Gregg said he would offer an amendment to the Senate budget resolution that would say the conference report should not include any reconciliation instructions.
Still, the Obama administration — hoping to keep its priorities alive — appears to be keeping open the possibility. Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs got in a dig Monday at Republicans who used reconciliation repeatedly to increase the deficit but now argue against it.
“It is interesting to see the views on reconciliation and how they’ve changed since, say, the Bush tax cuts in 2001,— Gibbs said.
Keith Koffler contributed to this report.