Senate Democrats Razz Republicans For Their Ongoing Struggle To Coalesce Behind Policy Positions

WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 22: U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) speaks with reporters as he walks through the Senate Subway during a vote on June 22, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)
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While Senate Democrats spent Thursday eager to applaud the President’s budget, they were equally keen to exploit the contrast and poke at Republicans for their struggles to produce their own list of economic priorities.

“This is the difficulty: They want to cut Medicare and Social Security and then they got embarrassed when we said so,” Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) told TPM. “And so now, they want to cut food assistance and Medicaid. But I imagine they will probably deny that — and so they’re not gonna put together a budget.”

House Republicans are reportedly groping for programs to cut to make good on their vows to slash spending, a more difficult task since President Joe Biden strong-armed Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) into taking cuts to Social Security and Medicare off the table. 

They’re being advised by former Trump budget director Russel Vought, whose budget outline includes nearly halving funding to housing programs — and phasing out Section 8 vouchers — and nixing Medicaid Affordable Care Act expansions. 

“I think they have a predicament which is that they are so beholden to extremism and to a little crew of creepy billionaires,” Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) told TPM, adding: “So they’re torn between their big donors and the public, and they’re trying to paper that over by getting something negotiated in secret and by holding a hand grenade to the economy.”   

The debt ceiling, and Republicans’ hunger to use it as a bargaining chip, continues to loom in the background of the budget negotiations. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the government’s ability to pay its debts using extraordinary measures will be exhausted some time between July and September of this year. Much of the uncertainty is centered on revenue unpredictability, including income taxes this spring. 

The two must-pass items are traveling down parallel tracks. 

“I don’t think they have a realistic plan,” Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) told TPM of Republicans’ formulating of a budget. “The debt ceiling should not be part of it.”

The White House hit a similar note during its Thursday unrolling of Biden’s budget, with Office of Management and Budget Director Shalanda Young warning Republicans “don’t wreck this economy over politics — there’s a time and place to talk about spending.” 

Biden’s budget, largely a list of the President’s priorities, often raises revenue by increasing taxes on the wealthy and corporations. It would restore the child tax credit, enact his previously released plan for prolonging Medicare’s solvency and funnel money into increasing the affordable housing supply. 

Much of it would run into the buzzsaw of the Republican House. But in the meantime, Democrats are enjoying the space to tout their own budgetary priorities, while dinging Republicans as McCarthy tries to figure out how to consolidate his caucus behind an extensive policy proposal. 

“The Republican party is in disarray because they have no basic intellectual integrity,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) told TPM. “They can’t simply make up numbers. They really have no factual basis for the fantasy they’re trying to construct.”

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