WASHINGTON — The U.S. Senate moved closer Tuesday to approval of a two-year budget resolution aimed at avoiding another partial government shutdown in January.
The resolution, which would limit annual discretionary spending to just over $1 trillion, has divided support among the Arkansas delegation.
Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., said he plans to oppose the resolution when it comes up for a final vote late Tuesday or Wednesday. Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., plans to vote for it.
The bill cleared the House last week with Reps. Steve Womack, R-Rogers, and Tim Griffin, R-Little Rock, in favor and Reps. Tom Cotton, R-Dardanelle, and Rick Crawford, R-Jonesboro, opposed.
The Senate voted 67-33 on Tuesday to close debate on the issue with a final vote to follow. The measure would be the first budget resolution approved by both the House and Senate since 1997.
Despite some misgivings about its details, Pryor said in an interview Tuesday that it is important for Congress to bring back some normalcy to the budgeting process.
“We need to get back to budgeting here — and appropriating,” he said. “And if we want to manage our deficit, we need to have the budget process working and the appropriations process working.”
The budget resolution establishes a bottom line for discretionary spending — in this case $1.012 trillion in fiscal 2014 and $1.014 trillion in fiscal 2015 — that gives House and Senate appropriators a spending cap for the dozen annual appropriation bills that form the actual budget.
Without it, lawmakers have missed budget deadlines and resorted to “continuing resolutions” to keep the government functioning from one self-inflicted crisis to another, including automatic across-the-board cuts known as sequestration and a partial government shutdown this year.
Not withstanding his opposition, Boozman said in an interview Tuesday that reaching a budget resolution would have the “positive” result of re-establishing some order to the budgeting process, allowing for individual programs to be evaluated and adjusted on merit.
“So, that is a good thing,” Boozman said. “The problem is the pay for — spending money now and then relying, many years from now, on cuts that simply never happen.”
The resolution would nullify about $63 billion in across-the-board sequestration cuts over the next two years. Those would be paid for through a combination of other budget savings and fee hikes estimated to be worth $85 billion over a decade. The surplus would go to additional deficit reduction.
Pryor argued that opposing the resolution would reinforce the gridlock that has tied up the budget process in the past. So, it is better to approve the resolution and hope that Congress sticks to its commitments, even if specific increases or decreases are adjusted.
“It is impossible to get a budget done when you have all the gridlock around here, and here again this is a major improvement over gridlock, a major step in the right direction,” he said.
Boozman said he was also planning to vote against the bill because it includes a 1 percent reduction in scheduled cost-of-living increases for military pensions. He said that it is unfair for the government to go after benefits that have already been earned.
Pryor agreed, saying the issue is his “biggest concern” with the budget resolution and that he plans to introduce legislation next year to restore the 1 percent cut.
Pryor admitted the resolution does not necessarily mean smooth sailing ahead for Congress.
“I don’t have any illusions. We are still going to have issues and the two parties won’t be able to get along probably any better next year than this year. But at least if the process is working then we will have a way to actually legislate and govern,” he said.