Harry Reid Shuts Down Budget Process In Senate

The Democratic Senate has not adopted a budget in three years. This is not only flagrantly irresponsible, it is a violation of federal law. Outgoing Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad, who is retiring at the end of the year, apparently felt pangs of conscience, because he decided it was finally time for his committee to mark up a budget. He announced that the committee would do so, starting tomorrow.

A standard markup process begins with the committee chairman laying out a proposal, with the chairman and the ranking minority member giving opening statements. This is followed by an amendment process, in which amendments to the proposed legislation (here, the budget resolution) are offered and voted on. The markup process concludes with a committee vote on the bill or resolution as amended. In this case, Conrad assured ranking Republican Jeff Sessions that amendments would be allowed, and as recently as a few hours ago, Conrad’s and Sessions’s staffs were working out details of the amendment process.

Then, earlier this afternoon, Conrad gave a press conference in which he made the stunning announcement that there will be no budget markup after all. Instead, he will present a budget to the Budget Committee tomorrow. There will be no amendments and there will be no votes; not, at least, until after the election. Apparently Conrad had been proceeding on his own initiative, and at the 11th hour Harry Reid–supported by members of his caucus who do not want to have to go on record in favor of any budget–shut down the process.

This is a startling abdication of responsibility by the majority party in the Senate. A few minutes ago, Senator Sessions discussed this latest development on the telephone with a number of reporters. Sessions said that he was “deeply disappointed” in the Democrats’ actions, which evidently were driven by the Democrats’ unwillingness to commit themselves to any budget proposal. Sessions attributed this to a “lack of will, courage, or the ability of Democrats to unify behind a plan.” He said the Democrats have gone through “procedural gymnastics to avoid saying what they are for” because they “don’t want to be held accountable for anything.” In 2011, for example, the Democrats voted down three different budgets, but didn’t vote in favor of anything. Sessions indicated that when Conrad made his surprise announcement this afternoon, he and other Republicans were working on the amendments they intended to propose, which related, among other things, to health care, the double counting of savings, and increased revenues that could be obtained from more energy production. Now those amendments will not see the light of day in the Budget Committee.

The content of Conrad’s budget is almost an afterthought, but it may be even worse than President Obama’s. It includes zero spending cuts from the existing baseline and increases taxes by $2.6 trillion, $700 billion more than Obama’s budget. Under Conrad’s budget, the federal debt (granting all assumptions underlying the calculations) would increase by $7 trillion.

Is that a plan that the American people want to follow? I don’t think so, but Harry Reid’s latest maneuvering ensures that no Democratic Senator will have to vote on a budget before the election in November, and no Democrat will have to take responsibility for those unpalatable numbers other than Senator Conrad himself. The Democrats’ feckless inability to face fiscal reality, as manifested in the Senate’s failure to adopt a budget for three years and counting, is the clearest evidence of that party’s unfitness to lead the nation.

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