WASHINGTON – Republicans continue to stand in the way of efforts to kick-start Senate-House negotiations over the 2014 federal budget out of fear that any agreement might include raising the debt ceiling.
Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, attempted once again to get a vote on a proposed budget with the prospect of engaging in a conference committee with the lower chamber on a spending plan. That effort was blocked by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who insists that any agreement include language prohibiting conferees from reaching a debt limit deal.
The Budget Committee said it was the 15th time Democrats have attempted to go to conference since passing their budget 95 days ago.
The ongoing debate centers on the upper chamber’s sometimes arcane procedures. The Senate can pass a budget bill or any spending package emanating from a conference by garnering 50 votes. Considered separately, legislation to increase the debt limit is vulnerable to a filibuster, which requires 60 votes to call up for consideration.
Cruz essentially said he wants to keep the debt ceiling out of any House-Senate negotiations because those who oppose increasing the debt ceiling likely would lose. Democrats hold the majority in the Senate and likely could muster the necessary 50 votes to kill the effort.
“If the debt limit can be raised using 50 votes then the majority party, the Democrats, do not need to speak to the Republicans, do not need to sit down at the table and work with the Republicans, do not need to listen to any opposing views,” Cruz said.
Using budget negotiations to address the debt ceiling provides proponents with “a procedural backdoor” to reach concurrence with the Republican-led House, Cruz said.
“The Senate budget didn’t address the debt ceiling,” Cruz said. “The House budget didn’t address the debt ceiling. We didn’t have a debate on the floor of this Senate on the debt ceiling. We didn’t have a vote on the floor of the Senate about the debt ceiling. And yet the reason the majority is so adamant they want to go to conference is because it presents them with an avenue to use 50 votes, the votes of only the Democrats, in this body to raise the debt ceiling and dig us further in debt and to do nothing, nothing, nothing to fix the problem.”
Democrats attempted on 14 prior different occasions to gain the consent of Republicans to proceed to a vote on the Senate’s proposed budget and each time it has been shot down.
“A large group of us just think that, although we do have major differences between the parties’ values and priorities, we should at least come to the table and try to work out a deal,” Murray said. “That’s what the American people do every day. When there’s a disagreement, they can’t afford to just play a game of chicken and hope the other person gives in. Because when that happens, important things don’t get done.”
Murray noted that there are major disagreements between the House and Senate on appropriation levels for next year “and we don’t have much time to resolve that gap.”
“I know there are leaders on both sides of the aisle who would strongly prefer to solve problems, rather than get into yet another political fight that creates uncertainty for families and our economy,” Murray said. “And I’m confident that if those of us who prefer common sense bipartisanship over artificial crisis work together, we can reach a fair agreement and show the American people that their government works.”
Murray said she offered Cruz a deal that would have allowed him to offer an amendment during the debate over the budget bill prohibiting conferees from engaging in talks over the debt ceiling. It was rejected.
Cruz characterized the offer as “a typical Washington maneuver,” saying it would be non-binding and that 50 votes would kill it.
“What the senator is asking for is a pre-condition on a conference committee without the consideration of this full Senate,” Murray said. “What I offered to him and this body is a motion on a vote to instruct conferees.”
Cruz said using budget negotiations to reach a debt ceiling deal would be “irresponsible.”
“That’s not what Americans want,” he said. “It’s not what Democrats, Republicans or independents outside of the Washington Beltway want. Americans, look, we fundamentally know it is wrong to stick our kids and grandkids with $17 trillion in debt. And it’s even more wrong to keep on doing it and making it worse and worse and worse and not roll up our sleeves to fix things.”
The federal government bumped up against the $16.4 trillion borrowing limit in May. But Treasury Secretary Jack Lew said that increased revenues, spending cuts, and a healthier economy means potential default on the nation’s debt probably won’t come until sometime after Labor Day, perhaps as late as November.
Republicans in both the House and Senate have indicated they want to use any debt limit hike as a negotiating tool, using it to force a rewrite of the federal tax code, cut spending and/or repeal Obamacare. President Obama is insisting that he wants lawmakers to send him clean debt limit legislation. Lew has informed congressional leaders that the administration won’t engage in debt limit negotiations.
Sen. Michael Bennett (D-Colo.) said the wrangling over the budget and the debt ceiling “is exactly what people hate about Washington, D.C.”
“The people I represent, they’re not concerned with the procedural stuff that goes on here,” he said. “What they’re worried about is an economy that they’re living in day after day after day where even in periods of economic growth median income is falling. Middle class families are falling behind. They’re worried about an economy.”