Thune Loses Bid To Cut Budget

Published Jun 19, 2010. By Ledyard King.

WASHINGTON - In the escalating battle on Capitol Hill about whether to go deeper in debt to aid financially struggling states, John Thune and his fellow Republican senators lost Thursday.

The South Dakotan proposed scaling back government spending by cutting as-yet unspent money for states from President Obama's economic stimulus package and slicing 5 percent off federal agency budgets. The proposal went down 57-41 on an almost party-line vote in the Democratic-controlled Senate, with Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D., voting against it. Only Democrat Ben Nelson of Nebraska sided with the GOP.

The GOP measure was an alternative to a Democratic bill that would provide unemployment benefits for millions of Americans through November, extend tax cuts scheduled to expire soon and increase payments to doctors treating Medicare patients. 

 The Republicans would accomplish all those aims but also would chop $68 billion off the federal debt over the next decade by cutting federal spending in other areas.

By comparison, the Democrats' bill would add $55 billion to the debt, mainly because it doesn't pay for the unemployment benefits, and it would funnel billions of extra federal aid to cash-strapped states that warn of major cuts or layoffs if they don't get the money. 

 "It is high time that Washington, D.C., and the federal deficit went on a diet," Thune said on the Senate floor before the vote.

"We ought to lead by example. We have not been providing the example for the American people because we're asking them to make these hard choices, and we're not willing to make them ourselves."

Democratic Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., objected to Thune's proposal on a number of fronts, including the 5 percent "mindless, meat-ax" cuts he said would keep agencies from meeting their missions in areas such as border patrol or intelligence gathering. 

 Baucus said that Congress already had approved the stimulus package and that it has proved its value in saving as many as 2.8 million jobs, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

WASHINGTON - In the escalating battle on Capitol Hill about whether to go deeper in debt to aid financially struggling states, John Thune and his fellow Republican senators lost Thursday.

The South Dakotan proposed scaling back government spending by cutting as-yet unspent money for states from President Obama's economic stimulus package and slicing 5 percent off federal agency budgets. The proposal went down 57-41 on an almost party-line vote in the Democratic-controlled Senate, with Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D., voting against it. Only Democrat Ben Nelson of Nebraska sided with the GOP.

The GOP measure was an alternative to a Democratic bill that would provide unemployment benefits for millions of Americans through November, extend tax cuts scheduled to expire soon and increase payments to doctors treating Medicare patients.

By comparison, the Democrats' bill would add $55 billion to the debt, mainly because it doesn't pay for the unemployment benefits, and it would funnel billions of extra federal aid to cash-strapped states that warn of major cuts or layoffs if they don't get the money.

"It is high time that Washington, D.C., and the federal deficit went on a diet," Thune said on the Senate floor before the vote.

"We ought to lead by example. We have not been providing the example for the American people because we're asking them to make these hard choices, and we're not willing to make them ourselves."

Democratic Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., objected to Thune's proposal on a number of fronts, including the 5 percent "mindless, meat-ax" cuts he said would keep agencies from meeting their missions in areas such as border patrol or intelligence gathering.

Baucus said that Congress already had approved the stimulus package and that it has proved its value in saving as many as 2.8 million jobs, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

"The Thune (plan) would move in the wrong direction. Instead of helping to create jobs, (it) would probably cost jobs," Baucus said on the Senate floor before the vote. It "would reduce aggregate demand in the economy by more than $50 billion. Instead of continuing the good that the Recovery Act has done, the Thune amendment would stop it in its tracks."

Thursday's debate underscores deep partisan divisions about the expanding debt, a once-arcane issue that's climbing the list of voter concerns this election year, evidenced in part by the emergence of the conservative tea party movement across the country this spring.

The numbers are stark: The national debt is approaching $13 trillion - or almost $40,000 for every man, woman and child in the United States. The Concord Coalition, a nonpartisan organization dedicated to reducing the debt, projects it could grow by an additional $10 trillion over the next decade.

Each year, the government must pay billions in interest payments. In 2008, interest totaled $249 billion - roughly 8 percent of the entire federal budget, or more than the combined budgets of the departments of Agriculture, Education, Energy, Homeland Security, Justice and Veterans Affairs.

Both parties blame each other.

Democrats say former President George W. Bush and GOP leaders in Congress acted irresponsibly by not paying for sweeping tax cuts in 2001 and a prescription drug benefit for senior citizens.

Republicans say President Obama and Democrats have ballooned the debt by passing an economic stimulus plan last year and bailing out a slew of industries, such as automakers and insurance companies that they say should have been allowed to fail.

QuantcastThe Republicans would accomplish all those aims but also would chop $68 billion off the federal debt over the next decade by cutting federal spending in other areas.