WASHINGTON -- As expected, the Senate rejected on Wednesday two budget proposals that would have exacted cuts in federal spending in exchange for funding the government for the next seven months.
Senate Democrats voted down a House Republican bill that would have cut $57 billion from current funding levels. The bill failed, 56 to 44, confirming warnings by Senate leaders that the House bill was too extreme to make it through the upper chamber.
The other proposal on the floor, a Senate Democratic plan to cut about $6.5 billion from the budget, also fell short of the 60 votes needed for passage. That bill received even fewer votes than the House GOP plan, with 58 senators voting against. Eleven "no" votes came from Democrats, including Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Michael Bennet and Mark Udall of Colorado, Claire McCaskill of Missouri and Ben Nelson of Nebraska.
Neither bill won even a majority of votes, with 14 senators opposing both. With the bills' failure assured in advance, going through the motions of the votes served to illustrate the ongoing Capitol Hill wheel-spinning in the debate over budget cuts.
Republicans are looking to retain as many of the House-passed cuts as possible, while Democrats have summarily rejected the lower chamber's proposal. Neither side currently has a bill that can pass a 50-vote threshold in the Senate, much less the 60 votes needed to prevent filibuster.
The House GOP bill was long considered dead on arrival because of its deep cuts and riders to defund health care reform and cripple environmental and financial regulations. The White House reestablished its threat to veto the bill on Wednesday, issuing a statement that President Barack Obama would reject the House Republican budget bill if it made it to his desk.
The three Republicans who opposed the House-passed bill on Wednesday -- all founding members of the Tea Party caucus -- said the nearly $60 billion in cuts did not go far enough. Sens. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.) joined Democrats to vote against the bill.
Paul has called the House GOP cuts "not even close" to enough to turn around the deficit.
"I can't support spending at this level when we're faced with a $1.5 trillion deficit," he said in a statement after the vote. "I've consistently opposed adding to the deficit and will continue my opposition with my vote today."
By holding the test votes on Wednesday, Senate Democratic leadership sought to reframe the debate over funding the government, which must be done before March 18 to prevent government shutdown. House Republicans have so far held most of the cards, and succeeded in passing a two-week stopgap funding bill last week that cut government funding by $4 billion.
House GOP leaders have said they will support future short-term bills, but only if they continue to trim $2 billion per week from the budget. The White House floated the idea of about $6 billion more in cuts, which could indicate a three-week funding bill as the House and Senate work out a compromise on a longer-term solution.
Senate Democrats say they hope to gain leverage in the next round of negotiations now that they've voted down the House proposal. Leadership met with Obama at the White House on Wednesday before the vote to discuss the budget stalemate.
One proposal, unveiled on Wednesday morning by Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), would broaden the budget debate to bring in more revenue instead of only making cuts to discretionary spending. Schumer said he and other members of his caucus want to see an end to tax loopholes and wasteful subsidies, in addition to Medicare reform and defense cuts, to prevent dismantling of programs that help low-income people and families.
He said the failure of the two bills in the Senate could be a chance to reset the debate over the budget.
"We need to stop measuring fiscal responsibility in the frame of willingness to make cuts to government," he said at an event at the Obama administration-allied Center for American Progress. "For the good of the economy, we need to get off this playing field -- it is quicksand."
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