WASHINGTON -- Senate Democrats on Wednesday unveiled their first budget plan in nearly four years, a proposal that sets up a lengthy fight with Republicans over the two parties’ stark differences on taxes, spending and the future of Medicare.
The Democratic plan, which Republicans instantly criticized, would reduce deficits by $1.85 trillion over 10 years and would replace the recent automatic spending cuts, called the sequester, with higher taxes and a different spending-reduction plan.
The struggle over ways to reduce the nation’s $16.7 trillion debt, and the trillions likely to accumulate in the future, dominated talk and debate all over Capitol Hill on Wednesday.
The mood was both tense and intense. At the Capitol, President Barack Obama met with House of Representatives Republicans. Upstairs, senators were rejecting, by 52 to 45, a Republican bid to take away funding for Obama’s health care plan, at least the 34th time that Congress has tried to end it.
In a nearby office building, Republican budget writers began crafting a 10-year deficit-reduction plan that Democrats disliked. Not far away, the Democratic-run Senate Budget Committee was countering with its own blueprint.Obama’s session with House Republicans was seen as the most crucial of his four meetings this week with different congressional caucuses. Republicans have run the House since 2011, and many were elected by expressing strong opposition to his fiscal and health care policies.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, described the meeting, which covered a wide variety of topics, as “a frank and candid exchange of ideas.”
But, he warned, “there are some very real differences between our two parties, like issues: jobs, balancing the budget and what do we do to get our economy moving again. Republicans want to balance the budget. The president doesn’t. Republicans want to solve our long-term debt problem. The president doesn’t.”
Rank-and-file Republican members want Obama to offer a budget that would be in balance in a decade, as the Republicans have done.
“If you’re not going to have a 10-year time frame for a budget that ever balances, I don’t think that’s responsible,” said Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore.
Walden did find the meeting cordial. “There was a pretty positive discussion about the need to address these entitlement programs. He said he’s for doing that,” Walden said.
Rep. Michael Grimm, R-N.Y., agreed, but like others he thought Obama was more concerned with helping Democrats get elected than with taking tough steps to reduce the debt.
“Republicans remain skeptical that the president looks at everything through a political optic to gain advantage in 2014,” Grimm said. “We need action. Words are great. But this was a step in the right direction.”
In the Senate, Democrats began a renewed push for a budget, after balking at such action for years. They’d been concerned that such a plan would become valuable ammunition for Republicans in the 2010 and 2012 elections. Budget plans are supposed to be road maps for the legislation that sets spending for government agencies and programs.
Republicans in recent months have turned the lack of a plan into a Democratic embarrassment, so Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray, D-Wash., acted on Wednesday.