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Senate Dems' budget extends fight with GOP

| Saturday, March 23, 2013, 8:27 p.m.

WASHINGTON — An exhausted Senate gave pre-dawn approval on Saturday to a Democratic $3.7 trillion budget for next year that embraces nearly $1 trillion in tax increases during the coming decade but shelters domestic programs targeted for cuts by House Republicans.

With their victory by a razor-thin 50-49 vote, the budget allows Democrats to tout their priorities. Yet it fails to resolve the deep differences between the two parties over deficits and the size of government.

Joining all Republicans voting “no” were four Democrats who face re-election next year in potentially difficult races: Sens. Max Baucus of Montana, Mark Begich of Alaska, Kay Hagan of North Carolina and Mark Pryor of Arkansas. Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., did not vote.

White House spokesman Jay Carney praised the Senate plan, saying in a statement it “will create jobs and cut the deficit in a balanced way.”

While calling on both sides to find common ground, Carney did not hold out much hope for compromise with Republicans. The rival budget passed by the GOP-led House cuts social programs too deeply, he said, and fails “to ask for a single dime of deficit reduction from closing tax loopholes for the wealthy and well-connected.”

The Senate vote came after lawmakers labored through the night on scores of symbolic amendments, ranging from voicing support for letting states collect taxes on Internet sales to expressing opposition to requiring photo IDs for voters.

Final approval came about 5 a.m., capping 20 hours of votes and debate. As the night wore on, virtually all senators remained in the chamber — a rarity during a normal business day.

The Senate's budget plan would shrink annual federal shortfalls over the next decade to nearly $400 billion, raise unspecified taxes by $975 billion and cull modest savings from domestic programs.

In contrast, a rival budget plan approved by the GOP-run House balances the budget within 10 years without boosting taxes.

That blueprint — by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., his party's vice presidential candidate last year — claims $4 trillion more in savings over the period than Senate Democrats by digging deeply into Medicaid, food stamps and other safety-net programs for the needy. It also would transform the Medicare health care program for seniors into a voucher-like system for future recipients.

“We have presented very different visions for how our country should work and who it should work for,” said Senate Budget Committee Chairman Patty Murray, D-Wash.

The long Senate debate got testy at times.

As the clock ticked past 1 a.m., Murray asked senators to show respect for colleagues “who may not be able to stand as long as us, or who are elderly.”

Sen. David Vitter, R-La., shot back that Republicans were not trying to delay anything, and he wondered what flights or appointments would be missed if senators voted until 7 a.m.

The loudest acclaim occurred toward the end, when senators rose as one to cheer a handful of Senate pages — high school students — for their work in the chamber since the morning's opening gavel. Senators then left town for a two-week spring recess.

Congressional budgets are planning documents that leave actual changes in revenues and spending for later legislation, and this was the first the Democratic-run Senate has approved in four years.

That lapse is testament to the political and mathematical contortions needed to write fiscal plans in an era of record-breaking deficits, and to the parties' profoundly conflicting views.

“I believe we're in denial about the financial condition of our country,” said Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., a budget panelist.

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