On Message: Budget Votes May Matter ... In 2014 : It's All Politics Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan's House GOP budget balances in a decade and re-shapes Medicare. That is, it would if the measure passed by the House on Thursday ever became law — which it won't. All congressional budgets are at their core vision documents. They also make nice political weapons.

On Message: Budget Votes May Matter ... In 2014

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And today, the House will vote on the spending plan from Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan. And the Senate will debate a budget from Democrat Patty Murray. The two plans offer starkly different visions for future spending and the role that government should play going forward. But there's something you should know about these budgets: They have almost no effect on actual governance. NPR's Tamara Keith reports.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Yesterday, the House voted on five different alternatives to the Ryan budget. On the floor of the House, all day long, you heard variations on the same two themes.


REPRESENTATIVE KEITH ELLISON: The American people want jobs, not austerity.

REPRESENTATIVE TIM HUELSKAMP: How do you have a balanced approach, Mr. Chairman, if you can't have a balanced budget?

KEITH: That was Democratic Congressman Keith Ellison from Minnesota, and on the very opposite end of the political spectrum, Representative Tim Huelskamp from Kansas. There wasn't any suspense. All of these alternative budgets failed, as expected. One came from South Carolina Republican Mick Mulvaney. It was basically an exact copy of the Senate Democrats' budget. He said he really wanted to hold a vote on the president's budget, but it isn't out yet.


REPRESENTATIVE MICK MULVANEY: I offered a 34-page document full of question marks, but, appropriately, that was ruled out of order as not being able to be brought forward into the House.

KEITH: The ranking Democrat on the budget committee, Chris Van Hollen from Maryland, wasn't amused.


REPRESENTATIVE CHRIS VAN HOLLEN: And I hope that the gentlemen will demonstrate his sincerity in support of his own bill by voting for it. We will be able to tell whether this is simply some kind of stunt or a genuine effort.

KEITH: Mulvaney voted against it. Of course it was a stunt, but a stunt with a purpose. Mulvaney got 154 House Democrats on the record supporting the Senate plan, gave House Republicans a chance to vote against it and proved the Senate budget couldn't pass in the House.


MULVANEY: Remember, a budget is more than just a spending document. It is also a vision document.

KEITH: All congressional budgets are, at their core, vision documents, political statements with charts and numbers, and they also make nice political weapons. Last year, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee used the Ryan budget, with its reshaping of Medicare, to attack incumbents.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: You could steal his wallet. You could snatch her purse. But the sneakiest way to take money from seniors, you go to Congress like Chip Cravaack did and vote for a plan that ends Medicare.

KEITH: And Democrats fully intend to use the House budget against Republicans again in 2014. New York Congressman Steve Israel is chairman of the DCCC.

REPRESENTATIVE STEVE ISRAEL: Of course the budget is going to be fair game in any election, because a budget is the most dramatic and eloquent statement of the contrast between two parties.

KEITH: And it doesn't matter that none of these budgets will become a reality, or that congressional budgets lack the force of law, or that they don't actually control spending or taxes. Democrats feel they have an advantage. Republicans do, too. The National Republican Congressional Committee is already running Web ads.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Washington Democrats have released a budget that raises taxes by more than $1 trillion. It increases spending, not to mention it doesn't ever balance the budget.

DANIEL SCARPINATO: We've been messaging now for weeks and plan to on what the Democrats are doing.

KEITH: Daniel Scarpinato is national press secretary for the NRCC.

SCARPINATO: As long as they continue on the current path they're on, which is complete denial of our fiscal situation, you can expect that we're going to make that into a big issue, because we think that's completely irresponsible.

KEITH: So if you live in a district or a state with a vulnerable incumbent, expect to hear a lot more about the votes taken this week between now and November 2014. Tamara Keith, NPR News.

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