House Passes Resolution As Senate Looks To Endgame And Recess Exits

The House Thursday evening approved the FY10 budget resolution, 233-196, laying the groundwork for initiatives called for by President Obama. All Republicans and 20 Democrats opposed the resolution.

Budget Chairman John Spratt said he hopes to have a conference "as soon as possible" in order to kick off the appropriations process. "I haven't seen the final product from the Senate ... but from what I understand we are not that far apart, so hopefully we can write a resolution quickly." He said that House and Senate staffers will confer over the recess. Aides said whether to include reconciliation instructions will likely be the tallest hurdle.

Both House and Senate resolutions include deficit-neutral reserve funds for healthcare, energy and education legislation. The funds give committees the flexibility to draft legislation they see fit, such as a cap-and-trade measure in the case of energy legislation. Healthcare, energy and education legislation were high priorities in Obama's budget.

Members of the Blue Dog Coalition also spoke in favor of the budget, which they claimed included their priorities. "We inherited a mess," said Rep. Allen Boyd, D-Fla., a Blue Dog leader. "But working together we can get back on the right track."

The budget includes a provision to require the House to pass statutory pay/go rules, a Blue Dog priority.

Republicans criticized the budget for increasing nondefense discretionary spending; the tax increases it assumes on wealthy Americans; a possible rise in energy prices as a result of a cap-and-trade program Democrats hope to implement in an attempt to battle climate change, and reconciliation instructions to get around a Senate filibuster on healthcare reform.

Budget ranking member Paul Ryan conceded that Obama and Congress have inherited a mess "but the question is 'what are we going to do about it?' I would suggest that the budget that is here before us makes it so much worse."

The House rejected four alternatives -- two by Democrats and two by Republicans.

The House defeated, 348-84, a substitute by Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Calif., on behalf of the Progressive Caucus. A proposal by the Congressional Black Caucus was rejected 318 -113.

Republicans offered Ryan's alternative, which failed 293-137. A substitute offered by the Republican Study Committee failed, 322-111.

Meanwhile, in one of the more high-profile Senate votes this week, the chamber approved an amendment, 51-48, by Sen. Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark., and Minority Whip Kyl to lower the estate tax.

The provision would reduce the rate from 45 percent to 35 percent next year and lift the exemption to $5 million, up from $3.5 million, which the budget would make permanent.

In all, 10 Democrats voted for the amendment: Lincoln and Mark Pryor of Arkansas; Max Baucus and Jon Tester of Montana; Evan Bayh of Indiana; Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray of Washington; Mary Landrieu of Louisiana; Ben Nelson of Nebraska; and Bill Nelson of Florida.

Majority Whip Durbin subsequently offered an amendment that would allow a point of order against any such estate tax provision as called for in the Lincoln/Kyl amendment until tax relief had been offered to lower-income individuals. That amendment passed 56-43.

Vice President Biden was on hand during the evening votes "in case we needed help in rounding up votes," a spokesman for Majority Leader Reid said. As the Senate neared final passage, at least two Democrats might vote against final passage. Bayh and Nelson of Nebraska voted for an amendment by Sen. Mike Johanns, R-Neb., to recommit the resolution to committee. Bayh and Nelson said they needed to see the final product but acknowledged their votes suggested they would oppose the bill in its current form. "It would not be wrong to speculate that," Nelson said.

The Senate worked through several amendments Thursday, with Republicans attaching amendments establishing points of order against Democratic priorities such as cap-and-trade legislation.

Budget Chairman Kent Conrad supported several of them but said he intends to drop them in conference. One, which passed Thursday on a 94-3 vote and was offered by Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., would allow for a point of order against legislation that would raise revenue from a reduction in the tax deduction rate for charitable donations.

Obama's budget proposed limiting itemized deductions, including donations to charity, for people who earn more than $250,000 a year.