Do You Believe in Miracles? Senate to Mark Up a Budget

Posted: Apr 17, 2012 12:45 PM

Don't get too excited, folks -- Harry Reid still plans to obstruct an actual vote.  Baby steps:

The Senate Budget Committee on Monday moved to take up a budget for fiscal 2013, renewing pressure from Republicans to bring the resolution up for a floor vote. The budget panel announced it would hold a markup of the budget on Wednesday, even though Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) has said a budget proposal for 2013 is unnecessary because the debt-limit law passed in August sets the discretionary spending limit at $1.047 trillion.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has said he has no intention of bringing a budget resolution to the floor, arguing there is no reason to consider a plan.  A vote on a budget proposal would be a political risk for Senate Democrats, because it would bring a “vote-a-rama” on amendments that would likely split the party on key issues. To avoid those votes, Democrats would have to vote against their own budget and prevent the GOP from amassing a majority.

(1) As we've discussed ad nauseam, the Budget Control Act (the very existence of which President Obama and Democrats resisted along the way) is not a budget.  Period.  Ranking Senate Budget Committee Republican Jeff Sessions debunked this claim months ago, explaining that the BCA is "not in any way or any sense a Senate Democrat budget plan.  There is no argument that can be made that these caps are a long-term vision for this country -- not on taxes, not on entitlements, not on spending, not on debt."

(2) Guess what?  Uncomfortable budget "vote-a-ramas" are part of the process.  The minority has long used parliamentary tactics to force the majority into painful votes.  For instance, during the Bush era, Democrats squeezed votes on redundant body armor funding for US servicemen, then slammed Republicans for "voting against body armor for our troops."  It's the way the game is played, based on the rules.  Senate Democrats no longer care for those rules, so they've either changed them using unprecedented "nuclear" methods, or they've simply ignored them.  This is a continuing case of the latter approach.  The Senate is required by statute to produce a budget every year.  It has been 1,085 days since they've fulfilled that obligation.

(3) Let's recall that Harry Reid's hand-selected Senate Parliamentarian -- the upper chamber's "referee" -- ruled against the Dems on this overall question, so Sen. Conrad is playing with fire by even marking up a budget.  Senate Republicans could very well bring it to the floor, risking the "vote-a-rama" Reid/Schumer/Durbin are desperate to avoid.  I can only imagine what sort of shenanigans they might employ to avoid that fate, so stay tuned.  They've already questioned the legitimacy and relevance of their preferred parliamentarian's ruling.  In summary, I'll allocate half a golf-clap to Conrad, simply for taking part of a legally-required step.  Pardon me for holding off on the standing ovation, however; this could end up being more pointless and craven window dressing.  In other words, today's development is not miraculous at all.

UPDATE - House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan weighs in:

“It is encouraging to see Senator Conrad recognize the need for Congress to budget and prioritize Americans’ hard-earned tax dollars. Proposing a budget is an obvious first step for those seeking to engage in an honest debate on our nation’s fiscal future. I hope Senator Conrad’s budget grasps the gravity of our fiscal challenges, instead of following the President’s lead of simply taking more from hardworking Americans to fuel structurally broken programs run by the federal government. I hope Senator Conrad can build consensus among his colleagues to advance a credible budget, as we have done in the House. I hope Senator Conrad can convince Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to also change his mind on whether or not the federal government needs a budget...

“It is a grave disappointment that the U.S. Senate has refused to pass a budget for three consecutive years. With a debt crisis looming on the horizon, it is unconscionable that we lack willing partners at the White House or with the Senate Democratic Leadership to advance structural reforms required to get America back on track. By refusing engage in an honest budget debate, the President and his party’s leaders continue to put the next election above the next generation. With the right leadership in place, I remain hopeful that reformers can work together to meet our generation’s defining challenge of ensuring greater opportunities for generations to come.”

Yesterday, the president suggested Paul Ryan's "draconian" budget would have precluded the invention of Facebook, or something.  Really.