Senate Passes Budget, Sets Stage for Political Battle

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
March 23 2013 1:05 PM

Senate Passes First Budget in Four Years, Sets Stage for Political Battle With the House

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Senate Budget Committee Chairman Patty Murray of Washington will be the lead negotiator for the Democrats during negotiations with the House

Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

At this stage of the game it should be pretty evident that any seeming progress in the nation’s fiscal wars really amounts to postponing the next crisis, or anticipating the next crisis, or maybe even just outlining the battle lines for the next crisis. Senators stayed up all night to debate and narrowly pass the chamber's first federal budget in nearly four years—a $3.7 trillion blueprint for 2014 that has absolutely no chance of actually becoming law. Now that the Senate has passed its budget, there will be a much-welcome “relative lull in Washington’s fiscal wars until an anticipated summer showdown over raising the debt ceiling,” points out Reuters.

The passage of the Democratic budget that calls for almost $1 trillion in new taxes over the next decade was approved 50-49 a few minutes shy of 5 a.m. after a marathon voting session. The votes that took place over a period of 12 hours mostly amounted to “political theater” that gave lawmakers the chance to set a position on pet issues, notes Politico.

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Four Democrats facing tough reelection races next year joined all the Republicans in voting against the budget. So, if the non-binding blueprint has no chance of actually becoming law, what’s the point? To outline priorities, just like the Republicans did when they approved their own blueprint in the House that balances the budget within 10 years without raising taxes and slashing spending. The Senate budget would trim some spending, but prioritizes preserving social programs. Now the two sides must duke it out. Senate leaders will likely soon request a formal conference on the budget with the House, explains the Washington Post. That would make Rep. Paul Ryan and Sen. Patty Murray the lead negotiators for their parties on the issue as they stumble toward the debt-limit showdown this summer.

The White House praised the Senate blueprint, with spokesman Jay Carney saying it “will create jobs and cut the deficit in a balanced way.” President Obama is set to release his own 2014 budget next month, a document that should give a pretty clear indication of whether the White House wants negotiations with Republicans or would rather “play political hardball,” as the Associated Press puts it.  

Daniel Politi has been contributing to Slate since 2004 and wrote the "Today's Papers" column from 2006 to 2009. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoliti.

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