Senator Conrad’s Budget Misstatements

by Nash Keune

Last Sunday, Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D., N.D.) announced that he’d be taking a long-term strategy to mark-up when the Senate returned from its April recess. This week, he scheduled a mark-up meeting for Wednesday afternoon, but then Tuesday said that there would be no amendments, revisions, or votes — really, no mark-up of any kind. As Yuval Levin wrote earlier today, the meeting was basically limited to opening statements from the committee members, with Conrad having no intention of sending a budget to the Senate floor.

This morning, Conrad spoke to Chuck Todd on Daily Rundown. He said plenty of things that I take issue with, but here are the biggest three:

  • “The Budget Control Act has put in place a budget for this year and next”: Throughout the budgeting process, Senate Democrats have responded to complaints that the Senate hasn’t passed a budget resolution in over 1,000 days by claiming the BCA two-year spending caps constitute a de jure budget. The Senate parliamentarian disagrees (as does, tacitly, the president, the House, and any member who has introduced a budget resolution to the Senate this year). After all, the BCA only covered discretionary spending, which constitutes about 40 percent of the budget. It gives spending caps — maximum spending limits, not concrete budget requests. And the BCA, unlike traditional budges, doesn’t include specific departmental appropriations beyond the sequester process (which just specified broad cuts for “defense” and “non-defense” spending)
  • “I laid out the Bowles-Simpson plan”: The budget Conrad introduced had none of the reforms to tax expenditures (aka loopholes, tax breaks, deductions, etc.) endorsed in the Bowles-Simpsons plan, nor does it include net spending cuts. Some of this is necessarily interpretive, as you can’t simply copy and paste a plan from 2010 in 2012, but compared to the House budget proposal based off Simpson-Bowles, the Conrad budget raises tax revenues by about $900 billion and would spend $700 billion more over ten years. Conrad’s proposal is a “version” of the Bowles-Simpson plan, not an exact duplication.
  • “No reversal at all. . . . I did exactly what I said I would do”: Conrad said that he never intended to do more than present a budget, but indications from earlier this week definitely led everyone involved to think there would be a full markup process, with debate, amendments, revisions, and votes. In fact, according to a Senate Budget Committee staff member, Senator Jeff Sessions (R., Ala.) had been in talks with Conrad over the amendment process, and was actually in the midst of writing his own amendments when he saw on TV that Conrad had called off the process. As Andrew Stiles wrote, it certainly seems like the Democratic leadership stepped in, wanting to put off possibly unpopular votes until this fall, after the elections, when the impending expiration of the Bush tax cuts will give Democrats a huge bargaining chip. 

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