As chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, Kent Conrad (D., N.D.) is required by law to submit, mark-up, amend and pass a senate budget resolution by April 15 (the day House Republicans adopted Paul Ryan’s budget). In light of this important responsibility, Conrad has been missing in action (Democrats failed to pass a budget last year as well, despite majorities in both houses). Naturally, he disagrees with this assessment, citing his ongoing secret negotiations with the “Gang of Six.” (For an epic rundown of these talks, check out this Wall Street Journal piece here.)
But Conrad announced Tuesday that he has drafted a budget resolution and is said to have presented it to Senate Democrats at their weekly policy lunch meeting. He said his budget proposal would reduce the deficit by $4 trillion over the next decade — in line with the recommendations of the president’s fiscal commission, on which Conrad served — and do so in part by raising revenue through tax reform.
Conrad told reporters that he wanted to move “soon” to begin the mark-up process in the budget committee. Republicans on the committee feared that Conrad would try to bypass the committee altogether, and sent a letter to the chairman requesting an open process and ample time to review a resolution before it is marked-up and voted on.
Sen. Jeff Sessions (R., Ala.), the top Republican on the committee, said Conrad told him at last night’s White House dinner to expect a committee mark-up session next Monday but that he did not intend to provide advance copies. Sessions said this was a “very unsatisfactory” way to go about what he hoped would be “the most thorough and effective budget discussion we’ve had in decades,” and suggested that Conrad’s budget would be a “partisan document” chock full of gimmicks and hidden tax hikes that Democrats hoped to shield from public scrutiny.
“I don’t think the American people…believe that secret negotiations, bringing up a bill that affects every American’s life and ramming it through the budget committee before people really have a chance to analyze and all it’s complexity is a good thing,” Sessions said. “I think one of the big messages of the last election was that ‘you guys work for us. We want to see your bills. We want to hear the debate.’”
“I think that the regular process can work,” he added. “I don’t have any doubt that if we have a full and open process, this congress would pass legislation that would be far superior to that presented to congress by the president…I say let’s have it out.”
Sessions said that while Conrad’s proposal would almost certainly be better than President Obama’s initial budget, which he called a “stunningly irresponsible” document, resistance to meaningful spending restraint among “big government Democrats” in the senate was likely complicating Conrad’s efforts.
And while Conrad indicated earlier that his decision to move forward with his own budget proposal was in no way a reflection on the state of the “Gang of Six” negotiations, Sessions said that might not be the case. “Maybe it would indicate that they’re not going to reach an agreement,” he said.