Senate Democrats on Wednesday officially unveiled a budget resolution for the first time in nearly four years. It presents a stark contrast to the latest offering by House Republicans, which achieves balance within a decade without raising taxes. The Democratic proposal never balances, and calls for a $1 trillion tax increase, at least $100 billion in stimulus spending, and a smattering of nebulous spending cuts, most of which can be chalked up to accounting gimmicks.
Now that Senate Democrats have finally put their plan on paper, it is not hard to understand why they have been so reluctant to do so. For one, it is far easier to demagogue an opponent’s proposal without a serious plan of your own to defend. In almost all respects, the Democratic budget is a political testament to President Obama’s insistence that “we don’t have an immediate crisis in terms of debt.”
Democrats, though, don’t seem worried — yet. Senate Budget Committee chairman Patty Murray (D., Wash.) expressed confidence that the American public’s verdict in the 2012 election was a repudiation of the House Republican budget authored by Paul Ryan, and a mandate for the “balanced, responsible approach” Democrats are offering. Budgets, she said Wednesday during a committee hearing, were less about “abstract numbers,” and more about “values” and “priorities.”
Murray’s budget, which is woefully light on specifics, essentially embodies what former Treasury secretary Timothy Geithner told Ryan last year: “We’re not coming before you today to say we have a definitive solution to that long-term problem. What we do know is, we don’t like yours.”
Prior to Wednesday’s hearing, Murray circulated a list of talking points, nearly half of which was devoted to explaining what her budget doesn’t do — “dismantle Medicare,” “make cuts that harm seniors and the most vulnerable families” — and was, essentially, a laundry list of familiar Democratic attacks on the GOP budget.
Democrats will argue that their budget reduces the deficit by $1.85 trillion over the next decade, resulting in more than $4 trillion in total deficit reduction since 2011. Most of those savings would come in the form of a $1 trillion tax increase, or “closing loopholes and ending wasteful spending in the tax code that benefits the wealthiest Americans and biggest corporations.”
This is how many Democrats define “tax reform.” Murray, however, has enraged Senator Max Baucus (D., Mont.), one of her party’s most vocal advocates for bipartisan tax reform, by including reconciliation instructions in her budget that would make it easier for Democrats to jam through tax increases in the Senate. “Reconciliation would kill the possibility of doing any tax-code simplification,” Baucus’s office told Breitbart News.
The spending cuts Murray has proposed are dubious, at best. They include $242 billion in reduced interest payments, which are not typically counted as new savings, and $240 billion in defense cuts apparently gleaned from the “war gimmick,” counting savings from the military drawdown in Afghanistan, which is already current policy. Additionally, The Hill noted, since Murray’s budget eliminates the sequester, it is actually proposing a net increase in spending compared with the Congressional Budget Office baseline. Meanwhile, the $100 billion in new stimulus spending is carefully described as a “targeted economic recovery protection plan” charged with “tackling our serious deficits in infrastructure, education, job training, and innovation.”
Though many Democrats likely share Murray’s belief that Obama’s reelection was an endorsement of the vision outlined in her budget, the half-dozen or so red-state incumbents up for reelection in 2014 are probably not thrilled at the prospect of voting for a plan that hikes taxes by $1 trillion and does little to get the nation’s debt problem under control. In fact, Guy Cecil, executive director of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, recently suggested that voting for the plan could be a liability for red-state Democrats such as Kay Hagan (N.C.), Mark Pryor (Ark.), Mary Landrieu (La.), and Mark Begich (Alaska). That could become a problem for Senate majority leader Harry Reid, since Democrats can afford to lose only five votes if they hope to pass their budget.
Expect Republicans to pounce. Due to the nature of the budget process, GOP lawmakers will be able to offer dozens of amendments on the Senate floor, and force vulnerable Democrats to cast difficult votes on tax and spending issues. Most congressional Republicans are thrilled to finally have a Democratic alternative with which to compare their party’s own fiscal plan. “It’s going to be nice to be able to play some offense this time around,” a GOP aide says. “I think it’s going to become abundantly clear why Democrats have avoided this process for so long.”
— Andrew Stiles is a political reporter for National Review Online.