AP NEWS

Senate Budget Committee votes to advance 2020 budget plan

March 28, 2019

The Senate Budget Committee on Thursday voted to advance a 2020 budget plan that aims to eat into government spending over a five-year period and hold annual federal deficits under $1 trillion a level they’re projected to surpass for most of the next decade.

Chairman Mike Enzi said the plan is focused on “modest, achievable steps” that will put the country on a stronger financial footing.

“This budget will not solve all our problems, but I hope it marks the start of an honest, bipartisan conversation about the steps we need to take together to ensure that our country will leave our children and grandchildren in a world stronger than the one we inherited,” said Mr. Enzi, Wyoming Republican.

The non-binding proposal won’t become law and might not even get a floor vote. But it lays down a marker for Senate Republicans’ priorities as lawmakers start negotiating next year’s spending bills.

The plan tracks President Trump’s blueprint on sweating savings out of entitlement spending programs like Medicare, where Mr. Enzi says $551 billion can be saved over the next five years.

It allows for Mr. Trump’s desired $750 billion for the Pentagon next year, but only if lawmakers agree to increase caps on discretionary spending. Such an agreement would likely lead to at least a short-term spike in spending on domestic programs something the White House opposes.

Sen. Bernard Sanders, Vermont independent and the committee’s ranking member, said both Mr. Enzi’s plan and Mr. Trump’s plan would be disastrous for the American people.

“The American people want a budget whose priorities reflect the needs of the middle class and working families of this country not just those on top,” said Mr. Sanders, a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate.

The committee on Thursday weighed more than 30 amendments, which touched on topics ranging from the GOP tax cuts to border security.

Members adopted about a dozen of them, including a measure from Sen. Rick Scott, Florida Republican, intended to preserve pre-existing conditions protections in health insurance.

The committee also adopted a proposal from Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, Rhode Island Democrat, that’s intended to keep talks going on overhauling the “broken” congressional budgeting process.

The committee also turned aside Democratic proposals that would reverse parts of the $1.5 trillion tax-cut law Republicans passed in 2017.

Even with Thursday’s action, it’s unclear whether the non-binding proposal will get a vote on the Senate floor.

House Democrats might not even write a 2020 budget resolution, as leaders are struggling to meet the wish lists of both liberal members who want it to tackle far-reaching health care and climate change proposals, and moderates who say they’re unrealistic.

Members of both parties have already turned their attention toward finding a way to increase the spending caps that are set to ratchet down by $126 billion for the budget year that starts Oct. 1 if Congress doesn’t act.

In past deals to lift the caps, lawmakers agreed to boost the limits for both defense and non-defense discretionary spending in order to win support from both parties.

Mr. Trump’s budget plan abides by the caps but uses a defense budget gimmick to boost military spending that Mr. Enzi largely ditched in his plan, while making cuts to domestic programs Democrats have said they won’t accept.