Politics

Democrats to use budget vote as primary campaign issue in 2012

Chris Moody Contributor

Senate Democrats are licking their chops in anticipation for Thursday’s vote on the Republican budget proposal, and plan to use the vote against Republicans every day until the November 2012 elections, a top ranking Senate Democrat said Monday.

New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, who chairs the powerful Democratic Policy Committee, offered a sneak-peak into the Democratic campaign war room during a candid interview with reporters Monday, and explained the party’s plan to make Thursday’s vote a catalyst for the 18-month long campaign against the GOP.

House Republicans last month passed a budget written by Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid will likely bring it to the Senate floor Thursday.

Democrats in the chamber can hardly wait.

“Speaking for Senate Democrats, we look forward to the vote on the Republican budget,” Schumer said. “This issue will have staying power and be a defining issue for 2012. And in the Senate, we will show, we will exhibit this issue as an example as why we need to keep the Senate Democratic, in order to counter House Republicans. We will point to this week and say the Republicans tried to end Medicare, but the Democratic majority stopped it in the Senate.”

The Ryan budget, which cuts $4.4 trillion from federal spending levels over 10 years, repeals the Affordable Care Act and would overhaul Medicare with a system that provides vouchers to buy health care in a private market, does not have full GOP support in the Senate. At least two Republicans, Susan Collins of Maine and Scott Brown of Massachusetts, have taken stands against it. (In the House, just four Republicans voted against the plan.)

“Republicans clearly feel like this Senate vote is a lose-lose for them,” Schumer said. “It will bolster Democratic arguments that the plan is extreme.”

For the past month, Democrats have seized on the Medicare reform part of the plan, claiming that it would “end Medicare as we know it” or even “kill” the program that offers health care to seniors. It’s a talking point Democrats plan to stick to, and one party leaders believe they can win on in 2012.

“It’s that simple. It’s powerful,” Schumer said. “It’s no wonder Senate Republicans are dreading the vote this week.”

Not so fast, said Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, the top Republican on the Budget Committee, who on the Senate floor Monday accused Democrats of playing “cynical political games” and slammed the party for not passing a budget resolution in the chamber since 2009. Sessions also vowed to block any vote on a Republican budget without a vote on a Democratic alternative.

“This is astonishing,” Sessions said. “Is it the position of the Democrat party that their vision for deficit reduction is so unpopular or unfeasible that they won’t even articulate it in public, let alone offer it up as a budget? The heads of the fiscal commission warn an economic crisis may be just one or two years away, but Senate Democrats would prefer to hide in the hills and take shots at Republicans from a distance?”

When pressed about why Democrats would not put forth a budget proposal of their own, Schumer punted to President Obama, saying that the party was waiting for more details from the White House before moving forward.

“I haven’t seen the president with a specific budget plan, so we’ll have to wait and see what they’re talking about,” Schumer said.

Obama unveiled his own budget in January, but the document was largely seen as dead on arrival in both chambers and never came to a vote.

Schumer said it was more likely that the Senate would vote on a proposal that results from budget negotiations between the parties. Senate Budget Chairman Kent Conrad, North Dakota Democrat, is currently working on a plan and Vice President Joe Biden will continue to meet with Republicans to hash out a compromise. In the meantime, Schumer said that voting on Ryan’s plan would be “one of the most important steps” to finding an agreement.

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