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Senate OKs GOP Balanced Budget Plan    03/27 06:11

   Republicans muscled a balanced-budget plan through the Senate early Friday, 
positioning Congress for months of battling President Barack Obama over the 
GOP's goals of slicing spending and dismantling his health care law.

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- Republicans muscled a balanced-budget plan through the 
Senate early Friday, positioning Congress for months of battling President 
Barack Obama over the GOP's goals of slicing spending and dismantling his 
health care law.

   Working into Friday's pre-dawn hours, senators approved the blueprint by a 
near party-line 52-46 vote, endorsing a measure that closely follows one the 
House passed Wednesday. Both budgets embody a conservative vision of shrinking 
projected federal deficits by more than $5 trillion over the coming decade, 
mostly by cutting health care and other benefit programs and without raising 
taxes.

   The Senate was beginning a spring recess after approving the measure, 
leaving Congress' two GOP-run chambers to negotiate a compromise budget in 
mid-April. The legislation is a non-binding blueprint that does not require 
Obama's signature but lays the groundwork for future bills that seem destined 
for veto fights with the president.

   "Republicans have shown that the Senate is under new management and 
delivering on the change and responsible government the American people 
expect," said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

   Democrats viewed the document differently, saying it relied on gimmickry and 
touted the wrong priorities.

   "The budget we passed today is irresponsible and fails to effectively invest 
in our future," said Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md.

   The budget's solidly ideological tenor contrasted with a bipartisan bill the 
House overwhelmingly approved Thursday permanently blocking perennial cuts in 
physicians' Medicare fees. It too will wait until April for final congressional 
approval by the Senate, with McConnell saying his chamber will handle it "very 
quickly when we get back."

   Though doctors face a 21 percent cut in Medicare fees April 1, the 
government can delay processing those payments until Congress' return. The 
measure, which also provides money for health care programs for children and 
low-income people, would be partly financed with higher premiums for 
top-earning Medicare recipients.

   On the budget, only two Republicans voted no: Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and 
Rand Paul of Kentucky, a pair of presidential hopefuls. Two other potential GOP 
presidential candidates, Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida and Lindsey Graham of 
South Carolina, voted yes.

   All voting Democrats were opposed.

   The Senate completed its budget work after enduring one of its more painful 
traditions: A multi-hour "vote-a-rama" in which senators repeatedly debate and 
vote on a pile of non-binding amendments well past midnight. Senators offer the 
amendments because the votes can demonstrate support for a policy or be used to 
embarrass opponents in future campaigns.

   Those approved included one by Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, entitling 
married same-sex couples to Social Security and veterans' spousal benefits. It 
got 11 GOP votes, including from several Republicans facing competitive 
re-elections next year.

   Also adopted was one by McConnell aimed at thwarting Obama administration 
efforts to reduce coal pollution.

   Congress' GOP budgets both matched the spending plan that Obama presented 
last month when it comes to defense, proposing $612 billion for next year, a 
4.5 percent boost over current levels. Some conservatives were unhappy because 
they wanted more of the extra military spending to be offset with savings from 
elsewhere in the budget.

   But mostly, the Republican blueprints diverge starkly from Obama's fiscal 
plan.

   While his leaves a projected deficit exceeding $600 billion 10 years from 
now, the Senate plan claims a surplus of $3 billion.

   Over the decade, Obama would raise $2 trillion in higher taxes from the 
wealthy, corporations and smokers while granting tax breaks to low-income and 
middle-class families. He would boost spending on domestic programs including 
road construction, preschools and community colleges and veterans.

   The Senate budget would cut $4.3 trillion from benefit programs over the 
next 10 years, including annulling Obama's health care law, a step the 
president would without doubt veto.

   Those savings would include $431 billion from Medicare, matching Obama's 
figure. The House budget would pare $148 billion from the health care program 
for the elderly and convert it into a voucher-like program for future 
beneficiaries, a step the Senate shunned.

   The Senate budget would cut $236 billion from the budgets of nondefense 
agencies. The House would go even further, slicing $759 billion.


(KA)


 
 
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