Angus King votes with Democrats as Senate panel passes first budget in three years

Posted March 15, 2013, at 8:04 p.m.
Last modified March 16, 2013, at 7:02 a.m.
Sen. Angus King
Joshua Roberts | Reuters
Sen. Angus King

WASHINGTON — Sen. Angus King joined 10 Democrats and the Senate’s other independent member, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, in voting Thursday evening to pass a budget resolution for the federal fiscal year that begins Oct. 1.

All 10 of the committee’s Republican members opposed the budget resolution, which was crafted by Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., the committee’s chairwoman.

The committee’s 12-10 vote sends the budget blueprint to the Senate floor for consideration next week, the first time in three years that the full Senate will take up a proposed federal budget.

The proposal includes an equal mix of spending cuts and revenue increases, achieved mostly through closing loopholes, eliminating deductions and amending the federal tax code, over the next 10 years. Adding those savings to previous reductions that the Senate claims Congress and President Barack Obama’s administration have already implemented would yield $4.25 trillion in deficit reductions over the next decade, exceeding the $4 trillion goal set in 2010 by the Simpson-Bowles Commission.

“We’ve overshot the target, which is a good thing,” King said by phone Friday.

The Senate bill contrasts starkly with a budget presented by the Republican-controlled House, which proposes deeper domestic spending cuts, the repeal of the Affordable Care Act and tax rate cuts.

King found fault with those proposed tax cuts, which he said would “disproportionately benefit the wealthy.” By striking an equal mix between spending cuts and revenue increases, the Senate plan represents a more direct way to reduce the federal deficit, King said.

Describing the Senate’s version of the budget as “a totally reasonable document,” King said it looks a lot like a draft budget he started working on during the past eight weeks after growing frustrated by the lingering federal budget impasse. “It’s a 50-50 deal that cuts with reforms to entitlements and adds new revenues from cleaning up the tax codes.”

Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala. the ranking Republican on the Senate Budget Committee, blasted the plan. He argued that the budget passed Thursday would increase spending during the next decade and produce $7.3 trillion in new debt by 2023.

“These figures represent a colossal failure to meet the challenge of our time,” Sessions said in a prepared statement. “Removing gimmicks like the war savings accounting trick, the true deficit reduction is only around $300 billion — drastically less than the majority advertises to the nation. That is why, despite a $1.5 trillion tax increase, their budget still make no alteration to our unsustainable debt path.”

If the budget passes the Senate, as is likely because Democrats hold a majority, a group of Senate and House members will then try to hash out a compromise that would pass in both chambers. King expects “high level negotiations” to occur at that point, and he hopes that Obama will step in to help forge an elusive “grand bargain” that will provide longer-lasting resolution to the conflict between the Democratic president and Republicans in Congress over how to manage the federal government’s finances.

And while King believes the Senate budget “puts us on a reasonable path to pay the debt, given the economy,” he believes a long-term solution won’t emerge until Congress and the president begin talking seriously about restructuring the U.S. health-care system.

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