WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Democratic-controlled U.S. Congress could forego trying to approve a budget blueprint this year, a move that could avert a divisive spending battle but complicate efforts to close the record budget deficit.
After the bruising battle to pass healthcare reform, Democratic leaders are assessing whether their members have the stomach for another tough vote before the November congressional elections.
Republicans have hammered Democrats on spending as a record $1.5 trillion deficit is projected for the current fiscal year, and many Democrats could be reluctant to sign off on a budget plan that would acknowledge the country’s dire fiscal situation. No Republicans voted for last year’s budget bill.
In the House of Representatives, while Democratic leaders “would like to pass the budget, we have to see whether we have the votes to do so,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said in a news conference.
“It’s difficult to pass budgets in election years,” he added.
While there is no penalty if Congress fails to pass a budget resolution, it could spook investors looking for signs that Washington has the courage to bring its yawning deficits under control.
In the Senate, Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad said he had met no reluctance from colleagues to his plans to advance a bill through his committee in coming weeks.
“We’re going to go full speed ahead,” he told reporters.
The budget resolution sets spending and revenue plans for the fiscal year that starts on October 1. More significantly, it sets the rules by which the Senate can pass legislation with a simple majority, rather than the usual 60-vote threshold.
Those rules helped Democrats pass their healthcare overhaul last month. They could come in handy if Democrats want to extend middle-class income tax cuts due to expire at the end of the year.
That approach could also be used if lawmakers decide to cut spending or raise taxes elsewhere to help narrow the deficit.
Even without a budget plan, House and Senate appropriations committees will begin working on bills that outline how money should be parceled out to government agencies.
Congress has failed to enact a budget resolution four times, most recently in 2006 when Republicans were in charge — a lapse that drew sharp criticism from Democrats at the time.
The country’s fiscal situation has worsened considerably since then thanks to the deepest recession in 70 years.
Committee staff in both chambers have prepared budget blueprints and are waiting to see if there is enough political support to bring them up for a vote, aides said.
Editing by Vicki Allen