US Democrats to unveil first budget in four years

WASHINGTON (AFP) - President Barack Obama's Democrats will unveil their first budget in four years this week in the United States Senate, while House Republicans will put forward their own blueprint. But the two are unlikely to be reconciled.

Congress, aiming to ultimately craft a broad plan that can help reduce the swollen national debt, appears to be embracing its traditional role of setting forth federal spending requirements.

But when the budget chiefs in the House and Senate roll out their plans for fiscal year 2014, the documents will serve to highlight political differences between the two parties over tax and spending policy.

House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan on Tuesday will unveil a blueprint that contains no new tax revenue and demands massive spending cuts, as well as major changes to cherished entitlements like Medicare and Medicaid, in a bid to balance the budget within a decade.

Mr Ryan, last year's Republican vice-presidential nominee, is pulling no punches on a signature Obama accomplishment: his landmark health care law.

"Our budget does promote repealing 'Obamacare' and replacing it with a better system," Mr Ryan told Fox News on Sunday.

Democratic Senate Budget Committee chair Patty Murray, meanwhile, lays out her blueprint on Wednesday, proposing that tax loopholes favouring wealthy individuals and corporations be closed, as well as less severe domestic cuts.

Democrats have argued that their plan puts the nation on a fiscally sustainable path, but they acknowledge it does not balance the budget in anywhere near the Ryan time frame.

"I fear chairman Murray will follow the president's lead: raising taxes to enrich the bureaucracy at the expense of the people," Republican Senator Jeff Sessions said Saturday.

"We need to grow the economy - not the government."

But congressman Chris Van Hollen, the House Budget Committee's top Democrat, slammed Ryan's budget as catering to the rich at the expense of seniors who could be hit with higher costs if entitlement changes take effect.

"The big difference is, Republicans continue to take the position that they won't close one special interest tax break, not one, for the purpose of reducing the deficit," Mr Van Hollen told MSNBC on Monday.

Lawmakers have been embroiled in fiscal fights since December, when Congress relented to Obama's wishes and raised taxes on the wealthy.

But they failed to negotiate a solution on some US$85 billion (S$106.1 billion) in spending cuts, which kicked in early this month, and the House and Senate are now in negotiations over a stop-gap government funding measure that is separate from the 2014 budget debate.

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