By "it," Sessions meant a Democratic proposal for a 2012 federal budget. In recent days, Sessions, the top Republican on the Senate Budget Committee, has been asking, pushing, pleading, cajoling and begging Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to put forward a Democratic plan. So far, Reid has steadfastly refused.
That's nothing new. The last time the Senate passed a budget was April 29, 2009, which was, if you are counting -- and Jeff Sessions is -- more than 760 days ago.
Passing a yearly budget for the federal government is a fundamental responsibility of Congress. Lawmakers do not have to spend their time naming post offices or passing healthcare reform. But they do have to pass a budget. In 2010, neither the House nor the Senate did so. It's not that members just didn't get around to it, which would have been scandalous enough. No, Reid and then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi feared that passing a budget would hurt their chances in the November midterm elections. So they did nothing and took a beating at the polls anyway.
Now Pelosi is out of the picture. But Reid is still at it. The Republican-controlled House has passed a budget, but Reid will not produce a Democratic spending proposal. And if Reid doesn't want to pass a budget, then a budget won't be passed; the majority leader controls what is and what is not considered in the Senate.
"There's no need to have a Democratic budget, in my opinion," Reid told the Los Angeles Times recently. "It would be foolish for us to do a budget at this stage." Instead, Reid wants to wait and see if the deficit-reduction meetings led by Vice President Biden bear any fruit. Before that, Reid wanted to wait for the Gang of Six -- now nearly defunct -- to come up with something. Sessions was appalled when he read Reid's words. "It was a fundamental statement that they're playing politics," Sessions said. "They don't think it's politically smart to produce a budget. They'd rather produce nothing and attack Paul Ryan and the Republicans and think they're going to gain politically by avoiding their fundamental statutory responsibility. It's pretty breathtaking to me."
Reid isn't alone. The chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, Kent Conrad, is also happy not to produce a budget. Not long ago, he told reporters that he planned to "defer" work on a 2012 budget indefinitely.
It drives Republicans crazy that Democrats could so brazenly abandon such a basic responsibility. Recently, all 47 GOP senators signed a letter to Reid in hopes of shaming the majority leader into action.
"Last year, Congress failed to pass a budget, failed to pass any of the twelve annual appropriations bills, and failed the nation by recklessly funding the government on a series of short-term spending bills," the letter said. "The Senate cannot make the same mistake again."
Oh, yes it can. At Reid's instigation, the Senate spent its last week before the Memorial Day recess in a meaningless faux debate over the budget. Reid forced a vote on the House-passed GOP/Ryan budget -- it was defeated 57 to 40 -- so that Reid and fellow Democrats can accuse Republicans of voting to kill Medicare. In return, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell forced a vote on President Obama's proposed budget from a few months ago that did virtually nothing to reduce the deficit. It went down 97 to 0, so Republicans can say that Obama's plan is so terrible that Democrats ran away from it in droves.
All that happened instead of the Senate having a substantive debate and coming up with a compromise budget that can actually pass.
At some point, one gang or another, or perhaps the Biden group, will likely produce a deal that will be presented to the public as a fait accompli. "I think that's what Sen. Reid has in mind," said Sessions. "I don't believe the American people appreciated the secret negotiations that went on with regard to the healthcare bill or the immigration bill, and I don't think they're going to be very pleased to have some sort of a budget plopped down on them, with the Senate expected to vote up or down without any real debate or opportunity to make a difference."
The most amazing thing about all this, to Republicans, is that Reid's abdication of responsibility has attracted so little attention. In a country drowning in debt, where's the outrage? Byron York is chief political correspondent for The Washington Examiner.
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