Senate Democrats Still Shy of Budgets

by Nash Keune

Apparently, for Senate Democrats, there is only one thing in the world worse than not passing a budget resolution, and that is passing a budget resolution.

Yesterday on Fox News Sunday, Senate Budget Committee chairman Kent Conrad (D., N.D.) emphasized that “we’ve gotta serious about” devising “a long term plan that gets deficits and debt under control.” Specifically, “what we need, I believe, is at least a ten-year plan. That’s why I am going to mark up the first week that we’re back in session.”

But, even though Conrad speaks with such urgency about the need for a new, comprehensive, lasting plan, he recently requested that Senate Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough officially rule that the federal government technically already has a budget: the spending caps established by the Budget Control Act. Conrad touted that the BCA “not only sets a limit for this year and next, it sets spending limits for ten years.” “In many ways it is stronger than a budget resolution,” he continued, “because a budget resolution is purely a Congressional document — never goes to the president for a signature. The Budget Control Act is law.”

#more#Senate Republicans countered that the BCA only sets maximum levels for discretionary spending, without touching mandatory spending. MacDonough agreed that the BCA does not take the place of a full budget resolution. Her ruling means that any senator can submit a budget proposal, which will then be automatically put on the Senate calendar for consideration. Any senator could submit, say, the House resolution or Obama’s proposal, which could lead to the some embarrassing votes that the Senate Democratic leadership was presumably trying to avoid.

Despite this ruling, Conrad indicated that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) does not intend to bring a budget resolution — not even Conrad’s — to the floor before the election.  “Senator Reid has made the judgment, probably quite correctly, that there is very little chance that we’re going to get the two sides together before the election,” after which “all the tax cuts [will be] about to expire” and “we’ll be staring sequester in the face.” Though it’s been apparent for years that America’s debt trajectory is unsustainable, apparently it will take until at least mid-November for Republicans and Democrats, who happen to have 23 seats up for election (including Conrad’s, from which he’s retiring),  to come together and make difficult, possibly unpopular decisions.