WASHINGTON — Last year, House Democrats were united in opposing a GOP budget plan that many said cut too deeply and made painful changes to Medicare.
With the GOP presenting a budget with even deeper cuts and similarly controversial entitlement reforms this year, Democrats said Tuesday that the vote will likely be the same — Republicans will carry their budget plan without any Democratic support.
So what will Democrats end up voting for? When the House votes on the budget bill Wednesday, Democrats will look to pitch several potential alternatives, and there are three flashy ones right now: one from House Democrats, another from Senate Democrats and a third from Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison’s Congressional Progressive Caucus.
All three (plus others, including one from the Congressional Black Caucus) turn off the $1.2 trillion worth of sequestration cuts, which Democrats say will save more than 750,000 jobs. The budgets protect long-time Democratic priorities like education spending and assistance for the poor and all contain some type of stimulus spending, to varying degrees: Senate Democrats would pump $100 billion into infrastructure and education projects next year, compared to $200 billion from House Democrats and more than $2 trillion, over 10 years, in the Progressive Caucus budget.
None of the Democrats’ budgets balance within 10 years, though all get the deficit to under 3 percent of the GDP (about $430 billion in 2015), a target long pushed by the economists who say that ratio will help stabilize the country’s debt. The House and Senate budgets do that by ending tax loopholes and deductions for corporations and the wealthy, while the progressives look to also create six higher tax brackets on income above $250,000 a year.
This is where the similarities end. Over 10 years, Senate Democratic plan would bring in about $975 billion in new revenue and cut spending by $975 billion. House Democrats would bring in $1.2 trillion in new tax revenue. Because of the tax hikes, the Progressive Caucus’s budget brings in $4.2 trillion in new revenue, and sees spending increase by nearly $3 trillion. Supporters say it will create 7 million new jobs.
(For reference, the GOP Budget, introduced by Rep. Paul Ryan, cuts $4.6 trillion on top of the sequester, reduces the tax code to just two rates, and balances in 10 years).
So assuming Democrats look to run far away from the GOP plan and support one from their side of the aisle, they have basically two choices: invest in stimulus spending and raise taxes, or invest a lot in stimulus spending and raise taxes by a lot.
Liberals rally around Progressive Budget
In the Republican-controlled House, no Democrat budget plan is going to pass, but Ellison said the CPC budget, coined “Back to Work,” could get more votes than the 78 it garnered last year.
But Ryan called it something else: a “fantasyland, no compromise budget,” though that’s probably fine with CPC members. The Back to Work Budget is meant to be the highly liberal antithesis to the GOP budget, which Democrats say is a comparably severe lurch rightward.
“I think that it’s a reflection of the fact the House Democratic caucus is not controlled by the stalwart progressives, whereas the Republican caucuses is controlled by the absolute stalwart anti-government conservatives,” said Michael Linden, the director for tax and budget policy at the liberal Center for American Progress.
By that standard, the budget proposals from the House and Senate Democratic caucuses present more “centrist” plans, Linden said — Republicans will certainly oppose them because of their tax hikes, but progressives will inevitably take some offense to the spending cuts within them as well.
Predicting the votes
That doesn’t mean CPC members won’t back the party’s plan, or that the Senate’s most liberal members will vote against their party’s budget resolution either.
Ellison said he plans to vote for the three big House Democratic resolutions on Wednesday (those from the party, from the CPC and from the Black Caucus, details of which are here).
“The Dem budget does not raise as many jobs as the Back to Work Budget but it does raise some, and they’re much needed,” he said, calling all three plans “progress” from the “just awful” Republican budget.
U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan, voting for budget resolutions for the first time in 30 years, said he’ll probably do the same thing.
“I think all of them are improvements over the Ryan budget,” he said. “So I will probably vote for just about all of the alternatives to the Ryan budget.”
Here’s what’s probably going to happen when the budget resolutions come up for a vote on Wednesday. A small but vocal portion of House Democrats will vote for the budgets offered by the CPC and Black Caucus, though moderates will shy away. Most Democrats will eventually vote for their party’s alternative, which will fail (most of defections last year came from conservative Blue Dog Democrats).
The House will then dismiss the ultra-conservative Republican Study Committee budget (which balances in just four years) and pass their plan. Senate Democrats will follow suit and pass their plan later this week.
It’s important to remember that none of the budgets Congress votes on this week will become law, both because the House’s is dead on arrival in the Senate, and vice versa, and because these bills do not have the force of law. They lay out the party’s positions and might serve as the opening salvo in more thorough budget negotiations, but that’s about it.
And in terms of the substance of the proposals, Linden said they’re mainly rehashes of things that have come before — more infrastructure and education investments have long been cornerstones of Democratic budgets, for example, and the House GOP’s is essentially a beefed up version of their past two proposals.
“There’s not a lot of dramatically new ideas in any of these budgets,” he said. “There’s not a lot new under the sun in terms of budgeting.”
Devin Henry can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @dhenry