Senate Works Into The Weekend To Pass Budget

The economy remains at the top of the list of voter concerns. And this weekend, for the first time in four years, the Democratically-controlled Senate passed a budget plan aimed at getting the federal deficit under control. That plan was very different from the budget passed by the House.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

The economy is, as it has been for years, at the top of the list of voter concerns. And this weekend, for the first time in four years, the Democratically controlled Senate passed a budget plan. That's aimed at getting the federal deficit under control. Naturally, that budget plan was very different from the budget passed by the House.

Joining us as she does most Mondays is Cokie Roberts. Good morning.

COKIE ROBERTS, BYLINE: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Yeah. So Democrats have been taking a lot of flak from Republicans for not passing a budget for years. So what caused the Senate to finally do it just this moment?

ROBERTS: That Republican flak caused them to do it.

(LAUGHTER)

ROBERTS: They couldn't take it any longer. They needed to be able to say that they had produced a budget. But look, they didn't want to cut any programs and they didn't want to just let the deficit climb. So they had really tried to avoid going on record to say what programs they would cut. But the drumbeat of not dealing with it just got too loud, so they went for it. They set up this vote-o-rama, as they called it, which ended about 5:00 Saturday morning. They considered 101 amendments. Most of them were just political amendments for the purpose of embarrassing people on voter scorecards as they go into the next election, which of course is exactly why Democrats were trying to avoid a vote on it.

MONTAGNE: Well, despite a charm offensive on the part of President Obama - he invited Capitol Hill Republicans to lunch and dinner - these budget battles didn't seem to have gotten any less partisan.

ROBERTS: No, no - in fact, the Senate budget passed by only one vote. No Republicans voted for it, and in fact four Democrats who are up for reelection also voted against it. But look, on that big spending bill to keep the government going, they did avoid a shutdown and the House did accept some things the Senate had passed and the Senate accepted some things the House had passed.

But they're vowing to fight again over the debt limit, which will come up probably this summer. Look, Renee, the truth is, the Obama administration knows that the longer they stay mired in these budgetary issues, the worst it's going to be politically. The president's approval ratings have been dropping. They've been particularly dropping on the question of his handling of the economy, so the administration's trying to change the subject.

The president's foreign trip was seen as successful and now here at home he's talking about guns. That's what his Saturday radio address was about, and that's what Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid says he's bringing up next in the United States Senate.

MONTAGNE: Although, Cokie, given that it's shaping up to be such an uphill battle, why is the administration still pushing so hard on guns?

ROBERTS: Well, 91 percent say that they do approve of background checks, so that is the thing that is most likely to get through the Senate, and it appears that Republican Senator John McCain is going to try to broker a deal on that. Now, Senator Reid did say that the assault weapons ban would be dropped from the bill, much to the dismay of California Senator Dianne Feinstein.

But look, they really want to get something passed quickly because, in fact, the polling numbers have been dropping since the Sandy Hook tragedy on the question of support for gun control. But we're seeing this issue being pushed by Democrats in an attempt to shore up the coalition that elected the president in 2012, with the hopes that that coalition will stick together and elect a Democratic Congress in 2014.

So guns are one of the issues that they're using as a coalition-building issue, and that's aimed primarily at women who supported the president. Women support gun control by about 20 points more than men do. So that's one issue. In the same way, they're trying to keep gay marriage front and center, and that's aimed at young people.

In the last ABC News/Washington Post poll, 80 percent of voters aged 18 to 29 said they supported gay marriage, and of course those voters also overwhelmingly supported the president last time around. And then there's the issue of immigration, where, again, the Democrats think that they can shore up their Hispanic and Asian voters.

So all of these are aimed at keeping that coalition together.

MONTAGNE: Well, just briefly, the gun bill up next in the Senate. What about immigration reform, actual reform?

ROBERTS: It looks like it's actually moving forward; that gang of four Republicans, four Democrats working on it say they're close to getting together. We'll see what happens in the House. Harder there.

MONTAGNE: Cokie Roberts, always a pleasure. Thanks very much.

ROBERTS: Thank you, Renee.

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