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Posts in "Budget"
July 16, 2014
A group of Senators focused on forcing action on a new highway bill expressed disappointment with President Barack Obama for backing a House-GOP stopgap measure that they argue would encourage kicking the can down the road. Full story
June 12, 2014
Some senators are questioning an ‘astronomical’ but preliminary Congressional Budget Office score for the Senate-passed emergency veterans health bill — while promising to find ways to pay for it in conference with the House.
The CBO said the VA bill could cost $50 billion a year in expanded health benefits, but there were questions Thursday about how the CBO came to that figure.
“I think it’s astronomical because of some of the CBO assumptions, which among other things assumes that every veteran who qualifies now to get VA services … who hasn’t been using the VA, will all start using the VA and they’ll all have their share of health problems,” Missouri GOP Sen. Roy Blunt said. “Probably neither of those two things turn out to be the case.”
June 11, 2014
As the Senate voted overwhelmingly to pass legislation designed to fix problems at the Department of Veterans Affairs, the amount of new spending in the measure began to clarify.
And the price tag could be a gut-check when it comes to understanding what it really costs to fulfill sacred obligations to America’s veterans. The cost of the measure could be astronomical.
That’s according to preliminary numbers circulated by the Congressional Budget Office Wednesday afternoon. The bill would give veterans new opportunities to seek care outside of the health care system provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs.
June 10, 2014
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden, D-Ore., is keeping his options open on how to fund a new highway bill in order to help foster a bipartisan solution.
“Nothing has been agreed to, nothing has been ruled out, nothing has been ruled in,” Wyden told reporters Tuesday. “And the way it’s going to work is by the end of today, early tomorrow morning, we’ll have a bead on what members of the Finance Committee want to do and then we’ll go from there.”
“There are no easy answers here,” Wyden continued. “Failure is not an option and we’re going to make decisions in a bipartisan way.”
The Senate could move ahead at breakneck pace on bipartisan legislation to address the scandal rocking the Department of Veterans Affairs — after just as swiftly voting to block a partisan student loan refinancing bill.
A test vote on the student loan measure championed by Democrats and led by Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts is set for Wednesday, and despite the vocal support of Democrats and an outside public relations push, it is going nowhere fast.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell dissed that measure, which would allow student loans to be refinanced at lower current rates with an offsetting millionaire minimum tax. Instead, he said, the Senate should be acting on the bill to address the unfolding scandal at the VA, negotiated by Veterans Affairs Chairman Bernard Sanders, I-Vt., and Republican John McCain of Arizona.
May 12, 2014
Senators will likely face a separate vote on boosting the deficit in order to pass an $85 billion tax cut extenders bill, according to key Senate Republicans.
Retiring Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., a staunch opponent of the extenders bill, said he would “raise every order I can” to block the bill and “try to get us to do the right thing” for taxpayers.
He expects someone on the Budget Committee to raise a budget point of order. And, “If they don’t I will,” Coburn said.
The tax-cut-extension bill set for the Senate floor this week highlights a longstanding fissure between Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform and the Club for Growth.
The dispute comes down to this: The club would rather see the entire extenders package disappear — and thus see higher revenue flowing to the government, at least in the short-term — because it believes that many of the provisions are anti-growth and would harm the economy in the long run. For Norquist’s ATR, lower revenue is the top priority.
The two groups have faced off in the past — on a repeal of an ethanol tax break that would have violated ATR’s no-tax pledge, and on broader strategy, with the club nearly always opposing major budget legislation that has reached President Barack Obama’s desk, while Norquist has often supported the deals cut by GOP leadership. Full story
Sen. John Walsh’s proposal to cancel recesses until adopting a budget resolution that balances the books by 2024 isn’t exactly getting endorsements.
Asked about the recently appointed Montana Democrat’s proposal, a Senate Budget Committee spokeswoman reiterated the view of Chairwoman Patty Murray, D-Wash., about the state of the budget process.
“Chairman Murray believes we should build on the budget currently in place as a result of the two-year bipartisan agreement she reached with Chairman Ryan with additional bipartisan work to create jobs, encourage growth, and responsibly tackle our long-term budget challenges,” the spokesperson said.
Congress is currently operating under the spending levels agreed upon in that bipartisan deal, which has allowed appropriators to get to work on fiscal 2015 bills.
And the office of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
May 8, 2014
Freshman Sen. John Walsh introduced a bill Thursday that would block congressional recesses until there’s an agreement on a budget resolution that balances within a decade.
Walsh was appointed in February to fill the unexpired term of fellow Montana Democrat Max Baucus, who resigned from the Senate to become ambassador to China.
“Montana families don’t leave work before the job is done, and Congress shouldn’t get taxpayer-funded trips back home until they’ve addressed the national debt,” Walsh said in a statement. “This is the issue I hear most about from Montanans and I’m sure our neighbors across the country agree that Congress must solve this issue before going back home to ask their constituents for votes. What’s more, we have to responsibly address this issue, which means I won’t allow cuts to Medicare, Social Security and other programs that serve our most vulnerable Americans.”
March 31, 2014
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.”
March 13, 2014
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.
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
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 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
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