Inevitable: Senate rejects House GOP's budget cuts, 44/56; Update: Dems' budget bill fails 42/58 with 11 Democrats voting no

Not a party-line vote. All 53 Democrats voted no, but so did the three tea-party all-stars: Rand Paul, Mike Lee, and Jim DeMint. No word yet on whether they voted that way because they knew the bill was dead on arrival or whether they were prepared to say no even if it had a chance of passing. Paul, at least, sounded distinctly unimpressed with $61 billion in cuts during his floor speech this morning — and correctly so. Quote: “I recently proposed $500 billion in cuts and when I went home and spoke to the people of my state, spoke to those from the Tea Party, they said, $500 billion is not enough and they’re right. $500 billion is a third of one year’s problem. Up here that’s way too bold, but it’s not even enough.” Not remotely. And yet here we are.

Later they’ll vote on the Democrats’ insulting proposal to cut just $6.5 billion this year, but that’s D.O.A. too. The only suspense is seeing how many “fiscally conservative” Democrats will take the sort of principled stand taken by Paul et al.

“It isn’t often that two failed votes in the Senate could be called a breakthrough,” Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said Wednesday in a speech at the liberal Center for American Progress think tank. “Once it is plain that both parties’ opening bids in this budget debate are non-starters, we can finally get serious about sitting down and narrowing the huge gap that exists between the two sides.”

Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb, who is up for re-election in 2012, said Wednesday he would vote against both plans.

“In my view, neither is serious,” he told reporters on a conference call. “These bills are loaded down with tricks, treats, gimmicks and games.”

The combatants are facing a March 18 deadline that already has Republicans in the House drafting another stopgap spending measure to make sure the government doesn’t shut down if a broader agreement isn’t reached by then.

Reid can’t accede to an endless stream of short-term GOP spending measures. The last one cut $4 billion and the one Republicans are currently planning will call for another $4 billion, the sum of which already exceeds the Democrats’ pathetic grand total in cuts for the rest of the year. So Reid’s plan going forward, apparently, is (a) to accuse the GOP of not wanting to kids to read or something and (b) to oppose any new short-term resolutions, which means the risk of an honest-to-goodness shutdown on March 18 is now real and growing by the moment. The left will have a hard time explaining to voters, though, why it was important to bring the government to a halt over $4 billion, which explains why President Present has now stirred himself to action and is meeting with Senate Dems to come up with a counteroffer. Says GOP whip Kevin McCarthy:

“The vice president’s not even in the country right now, and we have less than a week and a half. If you ask the press secretary at the White House, ‘Well, who’s the lead negotiator with the vice president gone?’ Can’t tell you.”

All it took to get The One to wade in was two failed budget bills, one short-term budget resolution, a looming government shutdown, and endless pleading for leadership from Republicans and Democrats. Good work, champ. Here’s Rand Paul’s floor speech from this morning on how feeble this entire debate is. Exit question: Are the Democrats about to try something bold with their counteroffer? I’m guessing … no, not at all.

Update: As expected, the Democrats’ lame budget proposal also failed catastrophically, with 11 Blue Dogs crossing the aisle to vote with the GOP in demanding deeper cuts. That’ll give Boehner some extra leverage in negotiating the next round with Reid, but not as much as he needs. The 42 Democrats who voted yes are still enough to mount a filibuster.

The bill drafted by Democratic leaders would have cut about $4.7 billion from current spending levels. It failed 42 to 58.

Democrats voting no were: Sens. Kay Hagan, Herb Kohl, Claire McCaskill, Joe Manchin, Bill Nelson, Ben Nelson, Bernie Sanders (who is an Independent who caucuses with Democrats), Mark Udall, Jim Webb, Carl Levin, and Michael Bennet.

I’m almost afraid to ask, but did Bernie Sanders vote against the bill because he thinks $4.7 billion in cuts is … too much?

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