WASHINGTON Democrats in the U.S. Senate won't bother passing their own budget this year, arguing that a deal in December has already set spending levels for the 2015 fiscal year and "relitigating" it would create economic uncertainty.
Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray said in a statement on Friday she would prefer to focus on promoting longer-term budget priorities for the Democratic Party, including measures to boost economic growth.
The move will keep Democrats' election-year fiscal message focused on President Barack Obama's own 2015 budget request, due out on Tuesday, which will lay out his plans to shift spending to education, roads and expanding a tax credit for the working poor.
"While this budget year is settled and it wouldn't be productive to relitigate it so soon after our two-year deal, I plan to work with my colleagues on the Budget Committee to lay out our long-term vision for creating jobs, boosting the economy, and tackling our deficits fairly and responsibly," Murray said.
The two-year budget deal Murray negotiated with Republican House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan late last year came in the wake of a bitter fight over fiscal 2014 funding that led to a 16-day government shutdown last October.
It provided modest relief from automatic "sequester" spending cuts and set annual spending levels on military and domestic discretionary programs at just over $1 trillion for fiscal 2014 and for fiscal 2015, which begins October 1.
House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner said on Thursday that Republicans, who control the chamber, intend to pass a 2015 "balanced budget" authored by Ryan.
Ryan told Reuters he will wait until after Obama's budget rollout to unveil his own plan, and added that there was little time pressure to move quickly on his plan because 2015 spending levels were already settled.
The decision by Murray not to go through the motions of passing a budget also will allow Senate Democrats to avoid an open amendment process that allows any senator to seek vote on any amendment to the budget - a process known as a "vote-a-rama" that could last days.
With November congressional elections looming, Democrats are concerned that this could devolve into a series of partisan votes that could be used in campaign advertising.
"Many Republicans have made it clear that they don't have any interest in actually debating a long-term budget in the Senate, they just want to reopen the FY15 budget so they can hijack the process to play politics and use a vote-a-rama for partisan and campaign-related show votes," said a senior Democratic aide.
Murray's announcement drew a swift rebuke from Republicans, who claimed the move shows Democrats are no longer concerned about further deficit reduction.
"Senate Democrats have declared to the American people that you have no right to know what their plan is for your family or your country," said Stephen Miller, a spokesman for Senator Jeff Sessions, the top Republican on the Budget Committee.
Murray, in a memo sent to fellow Democrats this week, estimated that tax hikes and spending cuts passed by Congress since August 2010 would now reduce projected deficits by some $3.3 trillion between 2015 and 2024. When automatic "sequester" spending cuts are added in for those years, her savings estimate for those years rises to $4.2 trillion.
She said more budget savings are needed to put U.S. debt on a sustainable path, but Congress needed to focus more attention on other "deficits," including funding reductions for education, research and infrastructure.
"We must continue finding ways to bring down our long-term debt and deficits, but at the same time, work together to create jobs and expand opportunity and prosperity for all Americans," Murray said.
(Reporting By David Lawder; Editing by Doina Chiacu and Ken Wills)