Senate Democrats are offering an awkward embrace of President Obama's fiscal 2015 budget, casting it as a "blueprint" for future spending habits, with the knowledge that the administration's plan is little more than an academic exercise.
The president's budget hits at a time when there's almost no chance that Congress will act on it, after lawmakers passed a hard-won two-year spending plan earlier this year that amounts to a political armistice — for now — over fiscal fights.
The Democratic majority is now walking a political tightrope, supportive of the president's policies but careful to signal that they're not reopening the budget deal.
"While the American people have a budget in place and the certainty they deserve that there won't be another budget crisis through the end of 2015, we in Congress owe it to them to work together to build on that bipartisan foundation," Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray said in a statement.
Republicans were much harder on the plan. "This budget isn't a serious document," said House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, who negotiated the budget deal with Murray. "It's a campaign brochure."
Murray had said late last week that because of the two-year deal, the Senate would not take up the president's budget. Instead, Democrats are focusing their agenda on economic issues, pushing for an extension of unemployment insurance, a hike in the minimum wage, and a measure that would require equal pay for equal work by men and women.
Murray praised the president's proposed expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit and applauded the White House for aiming to raise revenue by closing tax loopholes.
"The two-year bipartisan budget deal signed into law in December was a strong step in the right direction, but it shouldn't be the last step we take," Murray said.
Speaker John Boehner said the proposal was perhaps Obama's "most irresponsible budget yet."
He complained that, even though Obama signed the budget deal, the president now proposes violating that agreement with additional spending. Moreover, Boehner said, Obama proposes raising taxes, not to reduce the deficit but to spend more taxpayer money.
"Spending too much, borrowing too much, and taxing too much — it would hurt our economy and cost jobs," Boehner said in a statement. "And it offers no solutions to save the safety net and retirement-security programs that are critical to millions of Americans but are also driving our fiscal imbalance."
The speaker said Republicans will offer their own fiscal 2015 budget in coming weeks.
But Rep. Chris Van Hollen, the top Democrat on the House Budget Committee, applauded the president's budget. He said it calls for a closing of "special-interest tax breaks" and making investments in education, scientific research, manufacturing, and infrastructure. The proposals, coupled with an increase in the minimum wage, said Van Hollen, "will help put Americans back to work and grow the middle class."