Senate Action on the Road to a 2012 Federal Budget

On May 25, 2011 the full U.S. Senate began work on its version of the FY2012 budget resolution with the consideration of four separate budget proposals. These proposals represent the broad range of options available as Congress moves forward with its efforts to enact a budget while achieving meaningful reductions in the annual deficit. The votes were procedural and determined which of the proposals would be brought to the floor for full debate, including possible amendments. None of the four proposals were approved for further consideration.

The President's FY2012 Budget was presented to Congress on February 14, 2011, but the drama of resolving the 2011 budget, which was not finalized until mid-April of this year, prevented action on next year's budget until now. With summer recess looming in the short term, and the end of the fiscal year in the not-too-distant future, Congress must now turn to the FY2012 budget and pass it before September 30, 2011 if they want to avoid a repeat of last year's debacle.

Interesting, the four proposals did not include one from the Senate's own Budget Committee. The four plans put forth for further consideration were:

The House Budget Resolution – Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI), chairman of the House Budget Committee, released his budget plan, The Path to Prosperity, on April 5, 2011. This plan includes the privatization of Medicare, makes the Bush tax cuts permanent, and reduces the corporate tax rate, among many other proposals. NPP has previously compared Rep. Ryan's plan to that of both the Congressional Progressive Caucus and the President's. The House adopted the Ryan plan on April 15.

The final vote was 40 yeas and 57 nays, including five Republican nays – Scott Brown (R-MA), Susan Collins (R-ME), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Rand Paul (R-KY) and Olympia Snowe (R-ME).

The Administration's FY 2012 Budget Request – The President, as previously mentioned, released his budget on February 14, 2011. His plan includes dramatic increases in infrastructure projects, including airport construction and road maintenance. It also includes cuts to social programs such as Low Income Home Energy Assistance (LIHEAP) and Community Development Block Grants (CDBG). We previously released an extensive analysis of the President's Budget, including historical comparisons.

The final vote was 0 yeas and 97 nays.

Proposal by Senator Pat Toomey – A freshman Republican from Pennsylvania and a member of the Senate Budget Committee, Sen. Toomey released his own budget roadmap earlier in May. It calls for a balanced budget by 2020, and it achieves that balance by reducing non-security discretionary spending to 2006 levels and freezing it, repealing the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (otherwise known as health care reform), and simplifying the tax code. Sen. Toomey's press release, along with an executive summary and detailed plan, can be found on his website.

The final vote was 42 yeas and 52 nays.

Proposal by Senator Rand Paul – A freshman Republican from Kentucky and a Tea Party member, Senator Paul offered a budget plan resolution based on a deficit reduction plan he released in March. His plan calls for the budget to be balanced in five years and projects a $19 billion surplus in FY2016. Provisions of his plan include reducing all non-security discretionary spending to FY2008 levels, reduces programs such as food stamps and Medicaid to block grants, and eliminates entirely the departments of Commerce, Education, Housing and Urban Development, and Energy. More information on Sen. Paul's budget can be found on his website.

The final vote was 7 yeas and 90 nays.

With so many important issues on the line, including the debt ceiling, many voices are speaking up to shape the budget debate. These four votes were just the beginning of the annual quest for a budget, and now the Congresspeople and Senators get to sit down together and hash out a proposal everyone (or at least a majority) can agree on.

The fact that none of the proposals was approved for further consideration, including the President's annual budget request – which got no votes in the Democratically controlled Senate – is indicative of the political tension that surrounds even mundane budget decisions in Washington these days. Add to that the hard lessons learned during the onerous debate over the FY2011 budget, and the growing politicization of the upcoming votes on raising the debt ceiling, and it is easy to imagine an even more chaotic review of the FY2012 budget. Stay tuned to NPP for updated news and analysis as we move forward on this year's budget debate.