The Senate approved a balanced-budget blueprint Thursday on a party-line vote without much apparent Republican discord, but the ease of passage masked difficulties within the party that new Majority Leader Trent Lott had worked hard to overcome.
Lott, R-Miss., met with Republicans both in the Senate and the House, which approved the budget outline Wednesday, to tamp down budding revolts among conservative members of the GOP over the budget’s slightly greater spending and slightly higher deficits than they wanted.
The Senate passed the budget outline, which does not have to be signed by President Clinton, on a 53-46 straight party-line vote. Sen. Dale Bumpers, D-Ark., did not vote.
Part of the conservatives’ disappointment with the budget is that it shows a higher deficit next fiscal year and in fiscal 1998 - $153 billion and $147 billion, respectively, compared with this year’s $144 billion - before the red ink begins to decline sharply.
“If I were king, I wouldn’t write this budget,” said Senate Budget Committee Chairman Pete Domenici, R-N.M., in urging the Senate to approve the blueprint, “but we have no kings in the U.S. Senate. I believe this is as good as we can do.”
The budget outline provides for $1.62 trillion in spending for fiscal 1997 and sets the path for individual spending and tax bills which will work their way through Congress and to the president later this year.
Democrats warned that the plan “contains the same failed policies that the president was forced to veto last winter,” as Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., put it.
Disagreements over last year’s budget led to two shutdowns of the federal government.
But Lott said the document is the “first critical step” in the fiscal process this year, and in a particularly pointed comment, he said he would not “apologize at all for wanting to help children” with a proposed $500 per child tax credit.
“Yes, there is a spike in the deficit,” Lott said. “But so is there one in the president’s budget, and it’s $2 billion higher.”
Earlier in the day, Lott had met with Republican senators just to make sure they all backed the plan.