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By Stephen Lee
House and Senate budget writers offered starkly different visions of the future March 12 and 13, releasing competing spending plans for fiscal 2014.
The two budget resolutions mark a reversal of recent history, with the two sides at last working simultaneously on spending legislation. The Senate has not offered a budget resolution since 2009.
Yet House Republicans and Senate Democrats remain far apart ideologically, with Republicans prioritizing balancing the budget through deep spending cuts and Democrats favoring new tax revenues and a more modest approach to deficit reduction.
A budget resolution sets broad spending parameters for a given fiscal year, and guides Congress's appropriations committees as they write the far more detailed appropriations bills that provide specific funding levels for federal departments and agencies.
Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), chairman of the House Budget Committee, began the budgeting cycle on March 12, when he unveiled a FY 2014 spending plan that cuts government spending by $4.6 trillion over the next 10 years.
As part of that broader goal, Ryan's budget would trim the federal workforce by 10 percent by 2015.
Discretionary spending for most federal agencies, such as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, was not specified in the documents released March 12.
However, the budget broadly calls for deep cuts to domestic programs, and House Republicans have recently shown a desire to clip OSHA's budget: In 2011, they proposed cutting funding for the agency by $99 million (41 OSHR 136, 2/17/11).
Trimming OSHA's $568 million budget would raise serious problems for an agency that is already underfunded, said Aaron Trippler, director of government affairs for the American Industrial Hygiene Association.
“I can't imagine how such a budget could work,” he said.
To Trippler, the Ryan budget would effectively strip OSHA of some of its authority, leaving worker health and safety in the hands of the private sector, “and I'm not sure there would be enough assistance to address the needs.”
He also noted, however, that the Ryan budget is only a starting point that will almost certainly not be accepted in whole.
“This budget provides an exit ramp from the current mess--and an entry ramp to a better future,” Ryan wrote in an introductory statement. “The fact is, we owe the American people a balanced budget. The less we owe to foreign creditors, the more of our future we will control.”
The budget plan “ends Washington's culture of reckless spending,” Ryan wrote.
House Majority Leader Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.) praised the budget as a “responsible plan” that expands economic opportunity and ends wasteful government spending.
Democrats, however, were quick to respond. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said shortly after the budget was released that, “[w]hile the House Republican budget aims to reduce the deficit, the math just doesn't add up. Deficit reduction that asks nothing from the wealthiest Americans has serious consequences for the middle class.”
Similarly, House Democratic Whip Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said the Ryan plan represented a capitulation to the extreme right wing of the Republican party, “which has demanded that [Ryan] balance the budget in only 10 years but refuses to consider any new revenues necessary to do so.” Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) said the plan was a “totally uncompromising budget that simply represents more of the same.”
The day after Ryan released his budget, Senate Democrats unveiled their own budget, which they began moving through the committee process immediately.
The bill, introduced by Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), chairwoman of the Senate Budget Committee, offers $1.85 trillion over the next 10 years in deficit reduction through an equal mix of spending cuts and new taxes. Few specific details on individual programs were available at press time.
During her opening remarks before a March 13 markup, Murray said the budget's top priority is to create the conditions for job creation, economic growth, and prosperity.
The budget also replaces the sequestration cuts with what Murray called “responsible” deficit reduction, half of which would be derived from spending cuts across the federal budget.
Noting the “serious differences” between her budget and Ryan's, Murray also said the American people would have the chance to compare the two bills side by side.
Trippler called the Democratic budget “good news for OSHA and other agencies.”
A vote on the Senate budget bill was scheduled for March 14.
By Stephen Lee
The text of the House Republican FY 2014 budget is available at http://budget.house.gov/uploadedfiles/2014_budget_resolution.pdf.
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