Patty in the News

For three years, Senate Democrats feared that presenting a budget would cloud their message against Republicans. But this year, they’re seeking to leverage a budget framework into a stronger hand at the table with the House GOP and Obama administration.

Senate Budget Chairwoman Patty Murray of Washington is set to unveil and mark up a budget next week, in the middle of a fight over a continuing resolution to keep the government open. Murray might have to battle for time and attention for her larger, 10-year document against a more pressing shutdown fight. But as a member of leadership, she is in a better position than her predecessor, former Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., to thread that needle and use her new platform to shape the smaller debate, too.

“We’re all jammed here in a few weeks ... and I think the story becomes really conflated at that point,” Murray told CQ Roll Call, referring to averting a government shutdown, dealing with the sequester cuts and unveiling a budget.

Murray resisted the idea that producing a budget would not be as effective as doubling-down on more targeted talking points Democrats have used in the past, such as exceptions for corporate jets and oil companies. In the summer of 2011, top Democratic leaders including Sen. Charles E. Schumer of New York pressured Conrad to give up his pursuit of a budget framework to allow caucus leadership to better focus on specific talking points such as tax breaks for the rich or protecting entitlements.

Now, after the 2012 elections, Democratic leaders see the budget as a vehicle to make these same points. They believe raising taxes on the wealthy, through tax code changes, polls well enough to be less threatening than it might have been before the elections.

“My 10-year budget will reflect the values of our Democratic caucus and I will be outlining those very clearly. ... Not just the long-term debt and deficit issue, but also the deficit we have in education and in infrastructure and doing it in a balanced way,” Murray said. “And I think that’s not only a great message for our caucus, but it’s what the country really wants us to do.”

Democratic leadership aides said the Senate plans to debate the budget the week before the Easter district work period, setting up March 21 for the “vote-a-rama” on the litany of amendments allowed for under budget debate rules. Though these same aides insisted that the Senate could dispense with the CR or an omnibus bill and move on to the budget by then, it’s unclear their work will wrap so neatly. If an agreement is not imminent to avoid a government shutdown, Murray’s budget could get drowned out by the now typical back-and-forth between leaders on intransigence, brinkmanship and the possibility of economic catastrophe.

- Roll Call