WASHINGTON -- Congress this week will begin taking the first steps toward a more structured and orderly budget process, beginning what both parties hope is a move away from the vicious cycle of deadline-driven quick fixes.
In the Senate, Democrats were putting finishing touches on a budget they plan to introduce Wednesday, their first in four years, while House Republicans were preparing to introduce a spending plan of their own today.
The two proposals, which would set spending targets for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1, will be miles apart ideologically and difficult to merge. Democrats plan to rely heavily on closing tax loopholes that benefit corporations and the wealthy to produce new revenue, while Republicans will focus on slashing spending to balance the budget in 10 years.
But the fact that both houses of Congress are working on their budgets simultaneously after years of impasse raised some measure of hope -- albeit slight -- that Democrats and Republicans might be able to work out some sort of compromise. Compromise between the two parties, however, is only half of a more complicated bargain.
Democrats also have to bridge the divide among a politically diverse group of Democrats on the Senate Budget Committee. Committee chairwoman Patty Murray, D-Wash., said Monday she expected all 12 members of her majority to vote in favor of the Democrats' budget, even if some members so far remain uncommitted. "I have a really diverse committee," she said. "They all recognize that we have some really common goals, and we have worked it out."
That diversity is one of the major reasons that Senate Democrats have not written a spending plan since 2009, given the challenge of bringing together senators from Oregon to Virginia to Vermont who do not always agree on issues such as whether cuts should fall more heavily on military or nonmilitary programs, and which tax loopholes to eliminate.
"Dealing with the difference of opinion is tough," said Vermont Sen. Bernard Sanders, an independent who has tried to ensure that the Democrats' budget does not include an adjustment to the inflation rate that would calculate it in a way that would decrease federal benefits. Mr. Sanders said he was confident that the inflation rate calculation would be untouched, but he was not prepared to sign onto Ms. Murray's plan until he sees the final document. "We've had long talks; we'll see what happens," he said.
The committee is divided between 12 Democratic votes and 10 Republican votes.
In another sign that both parties continue to look for ways to meet in the middle, President Barack Obama is to visit Capitol Hill for four meetings this week with the Democratic and Republican conferences of both houses.