Senate Democrats approve budget on partisan vote

Split down party lines, the Senate Budget Committee Thursday moved its fiscal 2009 budget plan to the floor after staving off Republican efforts to rewrite key elements of the process.

By a 12-10 margin, the 23-member panel voted to approve a $3 trillion blueprint that would set the spending and taxing policies for fiscal 2009.

President Bush has said he will veto any fiscal 2009 appropriations bills that exceed his overall spending target and do not cut the number and cost of earmarks in half from fiscal 2008.

Democrats would restore spending cuts in Bush's proposed budget for a host of domestic programs, ranging from children's health care and veterans' benefits to education and climate change programs, as well as local law enforcement assistance. They also assume the expiration in 2010 of Bush's tax cuts in order to free up more revenue for their spending priorities.

The Republicans, citing their interest in restricting the reach and growth of government, largely support the president's priorities and favor the tax cuts as a way to enforce spending discipline.

The Senate's resolution, which is scheduled for a long debate next week, follows earlier approval of a similar budget plan by the House Budget Committee.

Although the two resolutions largely track on spending and taxing issues, there are some significant differences that could protract negotiations in a conference committee.

Both measures call for a one-year patch of the alternative minimum tax that could block its bite this tax year on about 20 million taxpayers.

But the House would require offsets, under budget reconciliation procedures, to cover the loss of revenue. The Senate committee's resolution does not contain reconciliation instructions.

Also, the Senate calls for extending several expiring middle-class tax breaks, worth $300 billion, that would be paid for by hoped-for budget surpluses in fiscal 2012 and fiscal 2013. The House measure favors those tax breaks but assumes they will be offset by other taxes or by spending cuts.

Finally, the Senate resolution calls for a standby $35 billion auxiliary stimulus package to be created if the economy continues to stumble. The House plan has no such provision.

In delivering their proposal to the floor, the committee's Democrats fended off attempts by Republicans to alter the long-standing rules that safeguard budget resolutions from crippling filibusters and that require new spending or taxes to be offset by other revenues or spending cuts.

Senate Finance ranking member Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, proposed an amendment to exempt the AMT from pay/go rules, which was rejected 12-10 along party lines.

Budget ranking member Judd Gregg, R-N.H., offered an amendment that would effectively vitiate the scope of budget reconciliation and thus subject the resolution to the threat of filibuster. That proposal went down, again on party lines, 12-10.

Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., also failed in an attempt to shield Bush's expiring tax cuts, if extended, from pay/go rules. That one fell on a 12-11 vote.

And the committee also rejected, by 12-11 votes, an amendment by Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, to strike the Senate's ability to waive the pay/go rule with a 60-vote majority, and another from Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, to use any revenue collecting from closing the "tax gap" to reduce the national debt.

But not all votes split along party lines.

By a 13-10 margin, the committee voted to limit commodity payments to farmers to $250,000 a year and by 14-8 to reject Gregg's amendment to remove milk subsidies inserted into the fiscal 2008 budget resolution without offsets from this year's resolution.

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