WASHINGTON -- If President Barack Obama and congressional Republicans are going to find enough common ground to avoid another round of fiscal crisis going to the brink of a government shutdown, they have a lot of distance to cover to come to a compromise. With the release Wednesday of the Senate Republican proposed budget, all the parties involved have put forward their proposals and there is a gulf between the starting marks.
Most budgets when first revealed aren’t designed to be the final product. Republicans in the House and Senate and the White House have put together documents that are more like wish lists than hard demands. But the glaring differences between the two documents -- on issues like defense spending, entitlement programs and the Affordable Care Act -- offer more places to point to differences than common ground. Add in intraparty disputes among congressional Republicans about how to best tackle government spending, and it's a recipe for a long six months before the government must be funded again. Budgets are the starting point in getting to the ultimate goal -- funding the government for the next fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1.
It’s not just the funding levels that show Republicans and Democrats are miles apart. The budget proposals that have been made this year show a deep division on policy. Republicans are pushing for changes to programs like Medicaid by creating grant programs for the states and letting local officials decide how much coverage is provided. Obama is pushing for increases in federal government programs, like creating a system that established two free years of community college.
In theory, the budget is the starting point that outlines overall spending levels and sketches a plan for the next decade. All sides present their proposals in the spring. In a perfect world, the House, Senate and the president would work to find a compromise they can each live with. Then the appropriations committees takes the budget and uses it to write spending bills, each one getting into the weeds of very specific programs and agencies. Those spending bills -- 12 of them in total -- must be passed before the end of September and signed by the president.
That process hasn’t worked in years. Congress largely has abandoned the process of budgeting for the past several years. And instead of passing individual spending bills, Congress has used continuing resolutions and omnibus spending bills to keep the government open.
And if the differences in the three budgets that have been presented this year are any indication, Washington is a long way from finding consensus that will let it reach the ultimate goal of funding the government.
The three documents take drastically different approaches to government spending. House Republicans would cut spending by $5.5 trillion over 10 years. Senate Republicans nix $5.1 trillion over the same time. Obama doesn’t make deep cuts but does find savings in other ways. Senate and House Republicans repeal the Affordable Care Act. Obama, unsurprisingly, keeps the law in place.
Obama took a swipe at the Republican budget proposal in a speech on Wednesday in Cleveland, criticizing the focus on trickle-down economics. "Reality has rendered its judgment. Trickle-down economics doesn’t work. Middle-class economics does,” Obama said. “It doubles down on trickle down.” He added, "We know now that the doom and gloom predictions that justified this budget in the past were wrong. Despite the new evidence, their approach hasn’t changed. “
And Republicans painted their need for changes as crucial to the future of the country.
“Make no mistake, our fiscal outlook is grim and has been ignored for far too long,” Senate Budget Committee Chairman Mike Enzi, R-Wy., said. “But we have a profound moral responsibility to help hardworking taxpayers see the true picture of our country's finances. This is also an opportunity to make significant changes in how we do business in order to safeguard the future for our kids and grandkids.”