President Obama’s budget director said the White House would consider using a Senate procedural tactic so that only 50 votes would be rquired to pass major healthcare and energy reforms.
Peter Orszag, the director of the Office of Management and Budget, said the administration would prefer not to use the budget reconciliation process to push through its package.
But he added: "We have to keep everything on the table. We want to get these.... important things done this year." Orszag called healthcare in particular "the key to our fiscal future."
Orszag made the comments on ABC’s "This Week with George Stephanopoulos."
Because they can not be filibustered, budget reconciliations only require 50 votes to pass the Senate. Democrats hold strong majorities in Congress, but still come up short of the 60 votes necessary in the Senate to end debate, which makes it easier for Republicans to block legislation. House rules in comparison make it harder for the minority party to stop bills.
Still, using budget reconciliation to pass policy proposals is controversial, even among some Democrats who believe doing so strains Senate rules and tradition.
The Obama blueprint calls for major changes in both energy and healthcare policies that is likely to engender significant opposition from Republicans and business lobbies. The reforms are expect to win widespread support from Democrats and more left-leaning constituencies.
The budget plan calls for a cap on carbon emissions, for example, and projects $645 billion in revenues from an auction of pollution permits that a variety of business groups, including oil companies, large manufacturers and utilities, would have to purchase.
On healthcare, the plan calls for a $634 billion reserve fund to pay for a first step on healthcare reform.
The president would pay for it in large measure by raising taxes on wealthy people and businesses by about $1 trillion over 10 years.
Republicans on Sunday criticized the document as a return of big government that would dramatically raise the deficit without providing the needed jolt to the economy.
The budget is "proposing massive tax increases on people and on businesses that can’t afford to pay them," said House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.), who also appeared on This Week.
Speaking on Fox News Sunday, Sen. Jon Kyl said the budget was "terrifying" in its policy implications and "mind-boggling" in its numbers.
But Orszag defended the $3.6 trillion budget plan by saying the plan cuts taxes for 95 percent of all working Americans.
"I just reject the theory that the only thing that drives economic performance is the marginal tax rate on wealthy Americans and the only way of being pro-market is to funnel billions and billions of dollars of subsidies to corporations," Orszag said.
Still, Democrats like Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) have expressed concern about rising deficits. The budget estimates a deficit in 2009 of $1.75 trillion, quadruple the level the previous year. It also projects rapidly shrinking deficits, however, by the end of Obama’s first term.
Considering the political difficulties attendant on budget issues and the tenuous state of the economy, Stephanopoulos asked Orszag if the administration would support the creation of a budget commission that would make spending and tax recommendations that would be either voted up or down with no possibility of amendments. Such a process is now used to close military bases.
Orszag left the door open on such a proposal, and also indicated a less ambitious commission focused only on health care as a possibility as well.