As both houses of Congress take up bills to pass a 2010 federal budget valued at roughly $3.5 trillion, several key moderate senators told RTTNews they have reservations about the amount of spending called for in the plan put forward by President Barack Obama.
Senators Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, and Arlen Specter, R-Penn., in interviews with RTTNews, said they had serious concerns about the level of spending and borrowing put forward in the budget.
Because the budget is a non-binding blueprint for federal spending for the year and by law receives a maximum of 50 hours of debate, Snowe and Specter's votes won't be critical to overcome the 60 vote threshold needed to cut off a filibuster.
But their support may become more crucial later in the year when Congress takes up the appropriations bills that actually fund the federal spending priorities. Snowe and Specter provided two of the three critical Republican votes to cut off debate on a $787 billion stimulus bill that passed earlier this year.
I intend to listen and I intend to think about things as I always have, said Specter, who is up for re-election next year and faces the prospect of a Republican primary challenge because of his role in negotiating the passage of the stimulus measure.
Snowe, who won re-election in 2006 with 74 percent of the vote and will not be up before voters until 2012, said she was really concerned about the budget bills that emerged from committee last week.
But she said she might be willing to reprise her role as a moderate Republican negotiator to craft compromise spending measures that could overcome the 60-vote filibuster threshold in the Senate.
It is important to me to see how it evolves, Snowe said. The current trajectory is disconcerting, frankly, and we really have to use really concrete conservative numbers . on assumptions when it comes to economic growth, unemployment and so forth.
She added, It really all depends on how this plays out and works through.
Snowe said that she was particularly concerned by the ballooning deficits even though the budget proposes to let $1.2 trillion in tax cuts for the wealthy expire.
There's a lot of spending that's built in [and] rosy scenarios and I think it's wise at this particular time because of the volatility of the economy . I would rather err on the side of caution and conservatism, she said.
However Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., a member of the Senate Budget Committee and a self-proclaimed socialist, said his colleagues were on the wrong path in trying to trim back some of President Barack Obama's more ambitious proposals.
The President is right. For many, many years we have ignored some of the major crises facing our country and I think pushing them under the rug is not going to do this nation any good, he told RTTNews in an interview. The sooner we address them, whether it is health care, energy or education the better our foundation will be.
Sanders added that if necessary, Obama should be prepared to use the budget reconciliation process - a procedural move that limits debate and prevents amendments on one bill per year - to circumvent the possibility of a filibuster to enact his objectives. Republicans and some moderate Democrats have strongly objected to that prospect.
I am strongly supportive of the Obama Administration and I think that when appropriate we should be prepared to use reconciliation as has been used by Republicans time and time again, he said. The middle class of this country and working families want the Congress to address their needs and that's what we should be doing.
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, a Budget Committee member who also heads the Senate Republican campaign arm, told RTTNews that most Republicans object to many measures in the budget, particularly reserve funds for as yet unwritten initiatives to address climate change and health care reforms.
I'm very concerned about the budget. I think it's nothing short of radical, he said. I think you're going to hear a lot of contentious debate over the next couple of weeks.
Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said that to some degree the back and forth with moderate Democrats and Republicans was healthy.
We're going to have a lot more [adjustments] before we're done, he said in an interview with RTTNews.. He didn't expect us to rubber stamp or as he said to Xerox his budget and we won't.
He added, It's a process of negotiation. It's nice to have a White House that actually wants to negotiate something.
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