Sessions Challenges Reid on the Budget

by Andrew Stiles

Senate Democrats have made it perfectly clear that they feel no obligation to produce a 2012 budget resolution. Never mind that the law requires it. Or that the American people deserve to know exactly how Democrats plan to address, in the words of former Clinton chief of staff and deficit commission co-chair Erskine Bowles, “the most predictable economic crisis in history.”

In fact, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) thinks it would be “foolish” for Democrats to put forward a budget at this point. According to Reid, what Americans really deserve is business as usual in Washington. The Senate has now gone more than 750 days without passing a budget. Reid has called for a series of votes this week on a number of Republican budget proposals — from Rep. Paul Ryan (R., Wis.) and Sens. Pat Toomey (R., Pa.) and Rand Paul (R., Ky.) — none of which will pass, in a naked attempt to secure a partisan advantage for Democrats.

Democrats are particularly looking forward to voting on the the House Republican budget authored by Paul Ryan, which includes a controversial proposal to reform Medicare. Democrats want to force Republicans to go on record either 1) for a plan that Democrats believe will be politically volatile in 2012, or 2) against Paul Ryan and the House Republican majority (which didn’t turn out so well for Newt Gingrich).

Never mind that Medicare will be insolvent by 2024. Or that Democrats have yet to propose a viable plan to prevent that from happening. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) says that’s “not the point.” Better to have a pointless political vote than to step up and show real leadership. Paul Ryan and the House Republican majority have done just that. Harry Reid, on the other hand, is content to finish out the week with series of “show votes” before packing it in for the week-long Memorial Day recess. Sen. Jeff Session (R., Ala.), ranking member on the Senate Budget Committee, has a message for Reid: Not so fast.

Sessions went out on a limb on Monday, threatening to derail the upcoming budget votes, as well as to prevent the Senate from adjourning for the upcoming holiday. Not that Sessions could do anything to actually prevent the votes from happening. Some Democrats have claimed that Sessions’s threat is an attempt to avoid a politically difficult vote on the Ryan budget. Not so.

Under the Senate rules, any member can call up a single budget for a vote at any time. But to schedule a pre-arranged package of votes, as Reid would like to do, would required a unanimous consent (UC) agreement. If even one senator objects, cloture — requiring 60 votes –must be invoked to move forward, meaning Reid would need at least seven Republicans to vote with him. The same goes for any motion to adjourn for recess. Sessions simply wants to force Democrats to go on record voting themselves a vacation without having fulfilled their duty to produce a budget.

“Anyone can call up these budget votes, consistent with the rules, anytime they wish,” Sessions said in an animated speech on the Senate floor. “But a package deal that wastes this Senate’s time I cannot and will not support. The majority leader is wasting the American people’s time.”

If Reid disagrees so adamantly with the Ryan budget, he ought to bring forward an “honest” plan of his own, Sessions said, quoting from the preamble of the final report issued by President Obama’s bipartisan deficit commission:

In the weeks and months to come, countless advocacy groups and special interests will try mightily through expensive, dramatic, and heart-wrenching media assaults to exempt themselves from shared sacrifice and common purpose. The national interest, not special interests, must prevail. We urge leaders and citizens with principled concerns about any of our recommendations to follow what we call the ‘Becerra Rule’: Don’t shoot down an idea without offering a better idea in its place.

The American people, he said, deserve better than what Senate Democrats have given them thus far:

On Memorial Day we honor those who have fallen for this country…We honor those who gave their last breath to preserve our way of life. But now that way of life is threatened by a tidal wave of debt that we’re refusing to confront. It is a debt that we have created, that we are growing, and that is up to us to defeat. That the Senate would go into recess this week—refusing to work on a budget or to even hold a public meeting—is unthinkable. Our soldiers serving overseas will not get the next week off. Why should the Senate get a week off after failing miserably to do its job?

Fair question. But will his Republican colleagues stand with him? Sessions told reporters he didn’t know how many other members would vote against a cloture motion to adjourn. “I think people need to thinking about it,” he said. “I think it will require the members to think through — are we really, adequately doing the people’s business? Are we leaving things of crucial importance out?”

We shall see.

 

No budget. No vacation. No more dithering.