GOP Split Over Budget Alternative
By Ben Pershing
President Obama's budget "spends too much, taxes too much and borrows too much." And so do the budget proposals of House and Senate Democrats. On this talking point, nearly all congressional Republicans agree. After that, things get a little tricky.
On the day when the House Budget Committee took up its version of the spending blueprint and Obama came to the Capitol to lobby his former Democratic colleagues in the Senate, Republicans spoke mostly with one voice on the flaws in the majority's plans. But the GOP is split on whether to formulate a budget proposal of its own - House Republicans are writing an alternative measure, while Senate Republicans aren't -- possibly complicating their efforts to sell themselves as more responsible stewards of the federal treasury than the current party in power.
First of all, House Republicans just want it known that they are writing a plan of their own. There will be a "substantive, comprehensive Republican alternative in the next 24 hours," House GOP Conference Chairman Mike Pence (Ind.) said this afternoon.
That fact seems worth emphasizing after Obama lashed out at Republican critics during his news conference last night, saying: "We haven't seen an alternative budget out of them." Many Republicans are still smarting from the debate over the economic stimulus package, when Democrats frequently charged - inaccurately - that the GOP had not presented a plan of its own. So the House GOP wants to make it better-known this time that they have an alternative vision.
But at the same time, some budget hawks in the chamber are disappointed that their Senate counterparts aren't also offering up a budget plan.
"I wish they would, but I wouldn't expect them to," said Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.). "It's not very Senate-like."
But Flake disputed the idea that the Senate's failure to offer an alternative would hamper the party's broader message. "As long as House Republicans do, I think we're okay," he said.
Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) declined to pass judgment on the Senate GOP's position, but he did say that he believed House Republicans would not be in a position to attack Obama's budget if they didn't have a plan of their own.
"I always believe that every criticism should be accompanied by a viable alternative," Franks said.
Speaking to reporters today, Office of Management and Budget Director Peter Orszag made a similar point. "I haven't seen on the Senate side an alternative budget and my understanding is there won't be one. So it's kind of -- it seems off to be criticizing without putting forward an alternative," Orszag said.
So why aren't Senate Republicans stepping up to the plate?
"Pretty simple, really," said Don Stewart, spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). "The minority in the House typically gets one shot [on the floor] -- one amendment. In the Senate, under the budget rules, we have numerous amendments, numerous possibilities to correct the flaws in a budget that spends, taxes and borrows too much. Different chambers, different rules, different procedures."
It's true that Senate Republicans will get more opportunities on the floor to modify the bill than House Republicans will. But it's also true that by only offering piecemeal amendments rather than a full-fledged alternative, Senate Republicans will avoid having to make the tough choices inherent in the budget process. Which tax cuts would they make permanent? How would they deal with the Alternative Minimum Tax? Would they pay for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan inside or outside the regular budget?
Instead, the Senate GOP has decided not to force its members to take potentially tough votes on those issues, particularly since their alternative budget - if it existed - would have zero chance of being enacted.
By tomorrow, we should know more details about how exactly House Republicans decided to make those tradeoffs. And we already know all about the plans offered by Obama and congressional Democrats, warts and all. But it looks like we'll never know how the Senate GOP would juggle those priorities, or at least, not until they win back the majority. Then they won't have much of a choice.
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