Congress on Thursday embarked on a battle over a federal budget blueprint as both the House and Senate debated dueling proposals they hope to meld into a "grand bargain" that reduces the debt and reforms entitlement programs.
The Republican-led House kicked off the debate, passing a plan authored by Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., that would balance the budget in 10 years by reducing spending by more than $5 trillion and slowing spending growth by 2 percent. The vote was 221-207 with no Democrats backing it.
Shortly after the House passed it's plan, the Democratic Senate began debate over a very different budget proposal, one calling for $1 trillion in new taxes but which isn't intended to balance the budget.
Talks on a bipartisan compromise plan will not begin in earnest until the week of April 8, when Congress returns from Easter break. President Obama last week tried to jump-start negotiations, telling lawmakers during a rare trio of trips to Capitol Hill that both parties must find middle ground on spending and taxes.
But the two budget plans both face fierce opposition in the other chamber.
In addition to the nondiscretionary spending cuts, Ryan's budget would shrink the long-term cost of Medicare by raising the age of eligibility and transforming the program into a "premium support" system. Ryan's plan would also eliminate funding for Obama's health care law, which most Republicans oppose, and cut the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 25 percent.
The Senate proposal, authored by Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray, D-Wash., restores the automatic spending cuts that will pare $85 billion this year. Murray's plan would not change entitlement programs like Medicare and includes new stimulus spending.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said the Democrats who oppose the GOP plan are out of step with the American public, who overwhelmingly support reducing the debt, according to polls.
But Boehner is not ruling out a compromise deal.
"Even though we've got two political parties with competing ideologies, the American people expect us to find common ground," Boehner said.
The Senate on Friday is expected to defeat the House Republican budget plan before voting on Murray's proposal.
Senate Democrats on Thursday lined up on the chamber floor to criticize the domestic spending cuts in the Ryan plan, including provisions to reduce food stamps and eliminate the health care law.
"Ryan's plan repeals but it does not replace," warned Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski, D-Md.
But Senate Republicans argued the Murray budget threatens the economy because it fails to balance the budget.
"We can do that," said Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala. "We are not talking about devastating cuts. We are talking about management."
The Senate debate will be lengthy because lawmakers are offering many amendments.
Among the amendments is one from Sens. David Vitter, R-La., and Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., that would end automatic pay raises for member of Congress, whose approval ratings have sunk to the teens in recent months.
"I think that is really offensive to the American people," Vitter said of the automatic raises, "particularly in tough economic times like these."
Most members of Congress earn $174,000. Lawmakers have voted to block their automatic raises since 2009.