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April 24, 2014

Posts in "Budget"

March 31, 2014

CBO Calls Baloney on Using War Money to Pay Medicare Docs (Updated)

Updated 3:54 p.m. | Congressional budget scorekeepers don’t sound impressed with using projected savings from not fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to prevent slashing paychecks for doctors.

In a cost estimate released Monday, the Congressional Budget Office explained that $601 billion in projected savings from limits on the Overseas Contingency Operations account might never be spent anyway, and noted there’s no funding currently provided for the OCO funding.

“As a result, reductions relative to the baseline might simply reflect policy decisions that have already been made and that would be realized even without such funding constraints. Moreover, if future policymakers believed that national security required appropriations above the capped amounts, they would almost certainly provide emergency appropriations that would not, under current law, be counted against either the existing caps on discretionary funding or the proposed new caps on funding for overseas contingency operations.”

Full story

March 13, 2014

McCain Rails GOP on Ukraine Bill: ‘Don’t Call Yourself Reagan Republicans’ (Video)

Sen. John McCain hammered Republicans on the Senate floor Thursday for refusing to pass by unanimous consent a Senate Foreign Relation Committee bill which would provide economic aid while imposing sanctions on Russia.

“What has happened? Where are our priorities? You can call yourself Republicans, that’s fine, because that’s your voter registration. Don’t call yourself Reagan Republicans,” the Arizona Republican said.

Full story

Graham to Kerry: ‘Let Me Know What I Can Do’ to Help With Boehner (Video)

Following remarks Wednesday from Speaker John A. Boehner saying IMF aid to Ukraine is unnecessary, Sen. Lindsey Graham personally offered assistance to Secretary of State John Kerry as the House and Senate continue to debate the appropriate response to the Ukrainian crisis.

“Hey, John, good job,” the South Carolina Republican was heard saying before Kerry turned off the desk mic. “Let me know what I can do to help you with Boehner.”

Graham’s remarks were caught following a Senate Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on the State Department’s fiscal 2015 budget. Meanwhile, Kerry travels to London on Friday to meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

Correction 11:40 p.m.

An earlier version of this report misstated where Kerry is traveling on Friday.

March 4, 2014

Democrats Take Aim at Ryan Budget Senate GOP Doesn’t Want

With few remaining options for enacting major public policy before the November election, Democrats instead are looking to set a political trap for Republicans on income inequality issues and hoping the GOP takes the bait.

According to several sources, some Republicans, especially on the Senate side, are reluctant to have House Budget Committee Chairman Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., push forward with his annual budget framework, which he telegraphed this week would focus on the federal government’s antipoverty programs. Senate Republicans, several of whom are caught between primary challengers on the right and Democratic upstarts on the left, would rather talk about something else, as opposed to being forced to contend with issues better suited to the Democratic party line.

“You are correct they have a vote count problem and that has led to concern on our side. We have better issues on which we can message,” said a Senate Republican aide, of the cross-chamber view of Ryan’s potential budget unveiling.

Ryan and Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray, D-Wash., already have set topline numbers for this fiscal year and next, and Murray has said she will not produce a budget this year. With those spending levels, it could be hard for House Republicans to actually pass the budget, given the 62 GOP defectors on the 2013 Murray-Ryan agreement.

“We don’t have any announcements to make at this time. It is Chairman Ryan’s intent to again put forward a balanced budget,” a Ryan spokesman said in an e-mail.

But perhaps more significant in the GOP’s calculations, assuming there is a regard for Senate Republicans’ political needs from their House counterparts, is that since 2010, Senate Democrats have used Ryan’s budgets as a political weapon against Republicans, and are sure to do so again.

The potential political “trap” goes like this: Democrats, through a series of messaging votes and initiatives from the White House, make “income inequality” issues — extending expired unemployment benefits, raising the minimum wage — the centerpiece of their 2014 midterm narrative.

Republicans, in turn, respond to these messaging efforts by trying to engage on the issue. Republican senators such as Tim Scott of South Carolina and Marco Rubio of Florida already have given speeches to these ends. And on Monday, Ryan unveiled a 204-page report assessing the failures of federal antipoverty programs.

Once Ryan releases his budget blueprint — if he does — Democrats plan to attack him and House Republicans, as they have for years, for slashing safety net programs to balance the budget. For their part, Democrats are happy Republicans are playing on their turf.

“House Republicans are realizing that the major issue that’s affecting the American people is the decline of incomes for the middle class and people below the middle class. … We may not agree with their solutions, but I think it’s a good step that they’re focusing on these things now rather than some other stuff,” Sen. Charles E. Schumer said Tuesday.

When reminded of previous Democratic messaging efforts, largely led by the New York Democrat himself, Schumer added the following caveat: “Well, I haven’t seen the whole Ryan budget this year, but I imagine most of it is going to be similar to last time — where he’s trying to dramatically cut things that will help the middle class grow, like education, infrastructure, scientific research. It’s not going to work.”

A Senate Democratic aide conceded the political nature of budgets in a way that underscored this dynamic: “A lot of these political debates aren’t necessarily won or lost on the answers to questions, but what you can frame as the important question, and on that front, we feel like we’ve already won.”

That has some Republicans asking why give Democrats an easy messaging issue when control of the Senate is in play. With President Barack Obama’s approval ratings hovering around 40 percent, and almost a complete disregard of his budget release Tuesday, these Republicans believe that other messages would be clearer and more effective.

But other Republicans dismiss the idea that attacking Ryan’s budget brings much political advantage to otherwise struggling Democrats.

“I don’t think the Democratic talking points on our budget [are as] effective as they think they are,” said one GOP aide. “I think they’d love to find an issue that would become a national issue to combat the general fatigue with the Obama presidency.”

And even some Democrats admit that what’s said on the ground by candidates plays a more significant role in voters’ decisions than national narratives.

“At the risk of going off-script, I don’t think the problem is Paul Ryan, I think it’s the ideas that all these candidates support and that’s what will have big consequences in these Senate races,” said Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Deputy Executive Director Matt Canter, citing recent stories of GOP candidates opposing the principle of a minimum wage. But Canter suggested that national policy decisions “build a narrative.”

February 25, 2014

Senate GOP Renews Iran Sanctions Push

Senate Democrats and Republicans are headed for a showdown over imposing new sanctions on Iran.

The Senate began debate on a veterans bill Tuesday afternoon which would improve health care and dental care, expand educational opportunities and help the Department of Veterans Affairs address a disability claims backlog.

Democrats expected the bill sponsored by Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., to have bipartisan support, but Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said that Republicans would seek to get a vote on an alternate veterans bill, sponsored by Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., that includes a provision on additional Iran sanctions. Full story

February 20, 2014

Social Security Cuts Still ‘on the Table’ but Not in Obama’s Budget

Updated 2:19 p.m. | President Barack Obama’s decision to drop a proposal to trim cost-of-living increases for Social Security and many other federal benefits from his budget cheered liberals on and off Capitol Hill — although the White House clarified the offer remains “on the table.”

Separately the White House announced that it would live with the spending caps agreed to in the budget deal between Senate Budget Chairwoman Patty Murray, D-Wash., and House Budget Chairman Paul D. Ryan, D-Wis. But the budget will also have a separate $56 billion “Opportunity, Growth, and Security Initiative,” which would effectively replace the remaining sequester for fiscal 2015 with supplemental spending split evenly between defense and non-defense programs. The White House says that package would be fully offset with “spending and tax reforms.”

The decision to drop so-called “chained CPI” came after Sen. Bernard Sanders, I-Vt., and 15 other senators wrote Obama a letter Feb. 14 urging Social Security to be spared in the president’s budget blueprint.

“With the middle class struggling and more people living in poverty than ever before, we cannot afford to make life even more difficult for seniors and some of the most vulnerable people in America,” said Sanders, who has railed repeatedly on the Senate floor against cutting benefits due under the law. Full story

By Steven Dennis Posted at 1:27 p.m.

Debt Limit Could Have Been Exempt From Filibuster

cruz 171 092013 330x231 Debt Limit Could Have Been Exempt From Filibuster

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Last week’s climactic vote to advance a suspension of the debt limit didn’t have to be so hard.

Sen. Ted Cruz wanted to force his party into a tough vote, but under Senate rules, debt limit legislation can be made exempt from a filibuster.

Through a process known as “budget reconciliation,” the House and Senate can fast-track debt limit, budget and tax bills through both chambers with simple majority votes. The rub is that in order to use the reconciliation process, you must first pass a budget blueprint teeing up a debt limit hike.

Congress hasn’t accomplished a joint budget resolution — technically required by law — since 2009, when Nancy Pelosi still held the speaker’s gavel. Full story

By Steven Dennis Posted at 9:28 a.m.

February 14, 2014

Cruz Calls Out GOP Leaders as Dishonest on Debt Issue

cruz 085 021014 445x275 Cruz Calls Out GOP Leaders as Dishonest on Debt Issue

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Ted Cruz, R-Texas, ripped his fellow GOP senators on conservative talk radio, taking a bit of a victory lap for forcing a politically tough vote to lift the debt ceiling and avoid a default.

“Why is Congress at a 13 percent approval rating?” Cruz asked on the “Mark Levin Show” Thursday. “Because people don’t like to be lied to.”

His comments came after a dramatic vote in the Senate Wednesday. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., was forced to scramble to find at least five Republican votes to cut off debate on the debt ceiling bill cleared by the House Tuesday. (See our post on the six senators who appear to have changed their votes.)

Cruz mocked Republicans for allowing the bill to advance and suggested they are being dishonest.

“I recently had my staff print out a list of three pages of Republican senators — I might note all the people that are running around the press saying nasty things about me — saying ‘We will stand on the debt ceiling and fight for it.’ And then a few months later, it’s like they think the American people are just a bunch of rubes, that we don’t remember what they say.”

Cruz added, “Every one of those senators who’s angry when they go back home, they tell every one of their constituents to stop it, but they don’t actually want to do what they are saying.”

Full story

February 12, 2014

GOP Split Laid Bare on Debt Limit Vote

The split between establishment Republicans and their tea party brethren over debt limit strategy boiled over on the Senate floor Wednesday, when GOP leaders scrambled to put down a filibuster threat by Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas.

The behind-the-scenes battle over the party’s debt limit strategy between Cruz and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky ended with McConnell and Minority Whip John Cornyn of Texas walking to the well of the Senate to vote to end Cruz’s filibuster attempt — a vote no Republican was eager to cast.

As he did in last year’s shutdown showdown, Cruz had been pushing his fellow Republicans in both chambers to dig in on the debt limit and extract concessions from President Barack Obama.

But McConnell privately counseled his fellow senators that such a path — which could have led to another shutdown and a first-ever default — was folly. At the heart of the dispute is what will play best in the midterm elections as the GOP attempts to regain control of the Senate.

“The challenge is we all knew what was going to happen after the House did what they did, and you know, to me, the most important thing that can happen this year is … for Republicans to win the majority in November,” Cornyn told CQ Roll Call after the vote. “I don’t want to do anything that would interfere with that.”

Both McConnell and Cornyn face primary challenges in the coming months.

Cruz and McConnell had sparred at the GOP’s Tuesday policy lunch, which some attendees described as heated.

“The leader thought we should go ahead and not have a government shutdown and I agree with him on that,” said Sen. Mark S. Kirk of Illinois. “A government shutdown is a political mistake for Republicans.”

Cruz, for his part, ripped what he considered to be a capitulation.

“Today’s vote is yet another example that establishment politicians from both parties are simply not listening to the American people,” he said. “Let’s be clear about the motive behind this vote — there are too many members of Congress who think they can fool people and they will forget about it the next week. But sometimes, come November, the people remember.”

Full story

Senate Votes to Send Debt Limit to Obama With Help From Republican Leaders (Updated)

Updated 4:14 p.m. | The Senate voted to send a one-year debt limit suspension to President Barack Obama’s desk Wednesday, after a high-drama cliffhanger that ended when Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Minority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas, voted “aye” to end a filibuster.

The Senate voted 67-31 to end a filibuster on the legislation threatened by tea party firebrand Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, in a vote that took nearly an hour to complete as senators wrestled with their decision. The Senate then voted 55-43 to pass the bill with a simple majority threshold.

McConnell and Cornyn voted to cut off debate when the measure appeared stuck just short of the 60 votes needed.

A dozen Republicans voted with Democrats in all, most in a clump after McConnell and Cornyn led the way: John Barrasso of Wyoming, Susan Collins of Maine, Bob Corker of Tennessee, Jeff Flake of Arizona, Orrin G. Hatch of Utah, Mike Johanns of Nebraska, Mark S. Kirk of Illinois, John McCain of Arizona, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and John Thune of South Dakota.

Cruz forced the 60-vote threshold, putting his fellow Republicans on the hot seat as they had to choose between a filibuster — potentially leading to the nation’s first ever default and a government shutdown — and putting the issue behind them ahead of the midterm elections.

Cruz had argued Republicans should stick together to extract spending cuts from Democrats and President Barack Obama, but McConnell privately had counseled against another shutdown showdown.

Kirk said his party was sharply divided over strategy behind the scenes, including a dispute between McConnell and Cruz. He told reporters why he planned to vote to advance the debt limit bill: ”I just want the orderly administration of the U.S. debt,” he said.

Cruz and outside tea party groups have ripped the party’s leadership in both chambers for caving to President Barack Obama’s demands for a clean debt limit hike. But the House voted narrowly to pass the debt limit Tuesday after Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, said Republicans were unable to unite behind any alternative.

The difficulty of the vote may suggest that debt limit brinkmanship may just be on hiatus, even if it’s over for this Congress.

Once signed by the president, the debt limit will be suspended until March 2015, at which point it will be raised to whatever level of debt has been incurred. That number will likely be at least $500 billion higher given the expected size of the federal deficit.

Humberto Sanchez and Niels Lesniewski contributed to this report.

February 11, 2014

Clean Debt Limit Vote Praised by Senate Democrats

schumer 173 022813 285x335 Clean Debt Limit Vote Praised by Senate Democrats

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Key Senate Democrats lauded the decision by Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, not to attach any extraneous provisions to a must-pass increase in the debt ceiling.

“The House has come to the realization that following the hard right on the debt ceiling made no sense, which is good for the House, good for the Republican Party and good for America,” said Sen. Charles E. Schumer, the No. 3 Democrat in the Senate. “We hope soon enough they’ll come to the same realization on immigration.” Full story

February 7, 2014

Lew Predicts Feb. 27 Debt Limit Deadline

budget hearing001 041613 445x297 Lew Predicts Feb. 27 Debt Limit Deadline

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Mark your calendars for February 27.

That’s the date Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew anticipates the Treasury Department will exhaust the extraordinary measures used to avert exceeding the federal debt limit past today.

Lew made the announcement in letters sent Friday afternoon to the top four Congressional leaders.

“Given the heightened variability of cash flows during tax season — which began last Friday, January 31 — it is difficult to forecast with any certainty when Treasury will exhaust its borrowing capacity. Based on our best and most recent information, however, we are not confident that the extraordinary measures will last beyond Thursday, February 27,” Lew wrote. “At that point, Treasury would be left with only the cash on hand and any incoming revenue to meet our country’s commitments.”

Full story

February 6, 2014

Republicans Block Unemployment Extension, Democrats Plan to Try Again (Updated)

Updated 3:29 p.m. | Senate Democratic leaders plan to again try to extend unemployment insurance after Republicans blocked their latest attempt Thursday.

Democratic leaders came up a single vote short of overcoming a GOP filibuster. The final tally was 58-40, short of the 60-vote threshold needed, after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid switched his voted to preserve his right to reconsider the measure.

Four Republicans — Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, Susan Collins of Maine, Dean Heller of Nevada and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska — joined the Democrats.

The vote would have advanced a three-month $6.4 billion extension to expired unemployment benefits, paid for by “pension smoothing,” which would have the effect of increasing taxable income.

Republicans charge that this is the latest in an election-year effort to score political points.

“If Republicans were in charge, unemployment would have been acted on months ago and it would have included reforms that actually enable people to get back on their feet,” said a senior Senate Republican aide. “Unfortunately everyone is stuck while Democrats play games.”

At a news conference before the vote, Reid said the outcome did not look good and pledged that Democrats would continue to push for an extension.

“We are not going to give up on the unemployed,” the Nevada Democrat said.

Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., said he believes Republicans think “unemployed people are lazy” and that is why they have voted against extending jobless benefits.

The Senate last month voted on a previous Democratic plan to extend the jobless assistance for about 11 months, which would be offset by adding another year to automatic spending cuts, known as the sequester, through fiscal 2024.

The GOP rejected the Democratic proposal as unfair because Reid would only let Republicans offer five amendments with a 60-vote threshold for passage, but demanded only a simple majority threshold for final passage of the extension.

Reid said that Democrats have sought to compromise with the Republicans on the issue, but that it never seems to be enough.

He said Democrats initially did not want to offset the extension because they believe it’s emergency spending. Then Republicans wanted to offer amendments, which Democrats allowed.

“They can’t take yes for an answer,” Reid said.

Reid also noted that he’d heard one Republican senator say they couldn’t vote for the Democratic proposal because it would not restore cuts to the cost-of-living adjustment for working-age military pensions that was included in the budget agreement passed in December.

He said those who have that concern should know the Senate will likely vote Monday evening on a bill from Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., to repeal the cuts without an offset. Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., said that the rationale behind not offsetting the bill “is very simple: our veterans have paid a big price already.”

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney called the Senate vote “disappointing.”

“We cannot allow one vote to stand in the way of supporting these Americans as they struggle to find work. Both sides of the aisle have worked together to prevent this kind of hardship in the past, and neglecting to do so now is unacceptable – especially given the high long-term unemployment rate,” he said.

Steven T. Dennis contributed to this report.

January 28, 2014

Senate Democrats May Skip Budget Yet Again

Senate Democrats are considering skipping a budget resolution for the fourth time in the past five years — a move that would insulate their vulnerable members from a politically charged “vote-a-rama.”

“We haven’t decided,” said Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., chairwoman of the Budget Committee, when asked recently about the prospects of the Senate passing a fiscal 2015 budget resolution, which would game out spending and revenues over the next five years to 10 years. “Everybody’s going to take a deep breath and we’ll make a determination.”

Although called for by law, budget resolutions themselves are nonbinding, with little import in most years beyond setting top-line spending levels for appropriators. And the bipartisan budget deal in December negotiated by Murray and House Budget Chairman Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., already sets those spending levels for next year, making a budget resolution all but moot. Full story

By Humberto Sanchez Posted at 3:06 p.m.

January 22, 2014

Lew Warns Congress Must Act on Debt Limit in February (Updated)

Treasury 03 042413 445x288 Lew Warns Congress Must Act on Debt Limit in February (Updated)

(Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Updated 4:47 p.m. | Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew is renewing calls for Congress to act to raise the debt limit in February.

Lew explained that the extraordinary measures are likely to run out sooner rather than later, and that there is less flexibility in February than at some other points in the year. The Treasury Department now expects the debt limit endgame to arrive in late February, rather than in March. Full story

By Niels Lesniewski Posted at 4:01 p.m.
Budget, Policy

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