House Democrats to Offer Up Budget

Posted March 12, 2012 at 5:51pm

House Democrats, led by Budget ranking member Chris Van Hollen (Md.), are planning on releasing an alternative budget resolution to contrast their priorities with the Republicans.

“Democrats will take a balanced approach to deficit reduction, meaning we will not balance the budget on the backs of Medicare beneficiaries and students,” Van Hollen told Roll Call on Monday.

“We will ask for shared responsibility from billionaires and very wealthy Americans by asking them to return to the same tax rates they paid during the Clinton administration,” Van Hollen said.

Democrats are still discussing the design of the alternative. And it will be offered only if Republicans are able to settle their intraparty debate over how much money to spend in theirs. Senate Democrats — and even House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (Md.) — have argued that a budget this year is unnecessary because Congress passed the Budget Control Act in August.

That deal to raise the debt ceiling also set spending caps for 10 years, and Democrats are counting on Republicans to adhere to that agreement for appropriations this year.

But Republicans remain sharply divided over whether their budget should set discretionary spending levels below the BCA caps. Conservatives are pushing for a lower level, but Republicans on the Appropriations Committee and others are seeking to set the number at the BCA level in order to ensure passage of spending bills through the Senate.

Last month, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said the Senate wouldn’t offer a budget this year because, “It’s done. We don’t need to do it.”

“What does the budget do? The budget does one thing and really only one thing. It sets the parameters of spending and discretionary caps. Other than that, the Appropriations Committee is not bound by the Budget Committee’s priorities,” Hoyer told reporters, defending Reid in February.

The House minority doesn’t always offer a budget, and it is under no obligation to do so. But Van Hollen defended his decision to offer a Democratic blueprint as a way to draw a distinction between the priorities of the two parties.

“Our Senate colleagues have made what is a very important point, which is that for the most part this year, I think people recognize you’re not going to see any … breakthroughs in terms of taking a balanced approach to deficit reduction,” Van Hollen said. “The primary advantage of having a budget is to set the discretionary spending limits, which has already been done as part of the Budget Control Act.”

He continued, “But in the House, we thought it would be important to draw an important contrast in other areas.”

Van Hollen took strong exception to Republican discussions to pass a budget with levels below the 2012 spending cap in the BCA, saying they would be breaking the terms of last year’s deal.

Republicans say the spending “caps” in the BCA are a ceiling and that going below that ceiling is not violating the agreement. But Van Hollen argued that both parties understood the caps to mean spending levels.

“Webster’s dictionary defines a ‘cap’ as an upper limit, as on expenditures — and that’s what it means in the context of the BCA, an ‘upper limit.’ If Washington Democrats are so desperate to spend more money borrowed from China that they can’t understand that, they can look it up on the Internet,” said Michael Steel, a spokesman for Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio).

“I think everybody understood that the caps were the intended target levels of spending. In other words, that those were the levels that people presume you get appropriated to. All you have to do is ask the Republican appropriators, they agree,” Van Hollen said. “There’s no misunderstanding there. The Republican appropriators recognize that what we were doing was setting spending levels.”

The Maryland Democrat said that if Republicans pass the budget with lower levels of discretionary spending, it will worsen the relationship between the two parties.

“It’s a violation of the agreement. It makes it very difficult to operate in the House because that agreement was negotiated in good faith, and it’s just an indication that it’s hard to get things done in the Congress these days. It’s hard enough to get things done without people violating agreements. But when they violate agreements, it makes it doubly difficult,” Van Hollen said.