The Democrats’ Fiscal Unseriousness
All politics, no plan


Andrew Stiles

When President Obama met with Senate Democrats last week to discuss their strategy on the debt-limit negotiations, he reportedly advised them “not to do what Republicans are doing” and to avoid any firm positions regarding the parameters of an eventual deal. In other words, “no drawing lines in the sand.”

And just as well, because even if Senate Democrats were so inclined, they wouldn’t have the slightest clue where to start drawing. Much hay has been made of tensions within the GOP on House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan’s (R., Wis.) bold plan to reform Medicare. Of course, that is precisely the narrative that the Left is trying to promulgate. In reality, Republicans are vastly more united than Democrats, whose disarray at this point would be comical if the problems facing our country were not so great.

First and foremost, when it comes to the budget, the Republican majority in the House is firmly on the record regarding its position (the Ryan budget). Democrats, on the other hand, have now gone 750 days without passing a budget in the Senate, and Sen. Kent Conrad (D., N.D.), the budget-committee chairman, has remained steadfastly aloof regarding his plans to move forward. Conrad’s hesitance should become even more glaringly obvious now that his go-to excuse — the ongoing nature of the so-called Gang of Six negotiations — has been rendered inoperative following Sen. Tom Coburn’s (R., Okla.) decision to “take a break” from the talks.

Conrad served on President Obama’s bipartisan deficit commission and has spoken out frequently on the need for urgent action to address the debt problem. But when Conrad presented his initial budget proposal at a Democratic caucus meeting several weeks ago, he was all but chased out of the room by party leaders. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) warned members not to “draw lines” by signing on to any budget plan.

Conrad has since revised his proposal to include a 1-to-1 ratio of spending cuts to tax increases — a total tax hike of at least $2 trillion over the next ten years — reportedly in an effort to win the vote of Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.), an avowed socialist and member of the budget committee. That is a far cry from the 3-to-1 ratio that Conrad supported as a member of the deficit commission, and a blatant sign that Conrad does not intend to win any Republican support.

Nor does it appear that Democratic leaders expect, or even care about, the support of party moderates, many of whom are facing tough reelection fights in 2012. Sen. Ben Nelson (D., Neb.), for example, has expressed concern about a deficit-reduction plan that relies too heavily on tax increases. “I’m only focused on cuts, not on raising taxes,” Nelson told reporters recently. “If we start getting our attention over to raising taxes, I can assure you that many of my colleagues are going to be less interested in cuts.”