Will Senate Democrats Finally Write a Budget?

For three years, in stark violation of federal law, the Democratic Senate has refused to write and adopt a budget. Over time, pressure on the Democrats has grown, but Harry Reid still says that he will not permit any budget–even a Democratic one–to come to the floor of the Senate.

But Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad seems to be feeling pangs of conscience, perhaps because he is retiring at the end of this year. Conrad has announced that next week, the committee will mark up a budget. This could set up an interesting conflict between Conrad (and presumably some other Senate Democrats) and Majority Leader Harry Reid, who puts partisan advantage above all else, even when it requires flouting the law.

Ranking Republican Jeff Sessions issued a statement on Conrad’s announcement that said, in part:

The Senate’s Democrat majority is now in its third consecutive year without passing a budget resolution as required by law. … The reason for this is clear: Senate Democrats are unable to translate their rhetoric into a plan that they can publicly defend and unite behind. …

Next week, Chairman Conrad has announced he will bring up a budget in committee. I am glad that the Chairman is moving forward with this mandatory process despite the apparent wishes of his leadership. But the great question before us now is whether Majority Leader Reid will reverse his unconscionable stance that no budget—even his Chairman’s—should receive consideration on the Senate floor. If that stance does not change, then the whole purpose of the mark-up is undermined and the American people will have been denied the open, public process they deserve.

We are all very interested to see what the Chairman’s plan will contain. I certainly would expect him to do better than President Obama, whose proposal not only made no change to our disastrous debt course, but also hiked taxes to fund a massive $1.6 trillion spending increase, in the process wiping out the spending reductions agreed to in the Budget Control Act just last August. We will look to see, for instance, whether the Chairman proposes genuine entitlement reform—such as the bipartisan, patient-centered reform in the House proposal—to put programs like Medicare on a long-term sustainable path. We will look to see how the resolution addresses the $17 trillion unfunded obligation imposed by the president’s health law. We will look to see whether it contains genuine tax reform, or simply a large tax increase disguised as reform. And we will look to see whether there are net spending cuts beyond the $2.1 trillion in the Budget Control Act: in other words, will he spend more or less than the approximately $44 trillion we are now projected to spend over the next ten years? For instance, if the Chairman simply marks to the fiscal commission it would likely not constitute a real net spending cut from current levels—only a tax increase.

It will be an important week for the country. And I hope Chairman Conrad will join me in calling upon his party’s leadership to ensure that a budget is very soon brought to the floor for consideration, amendment, and debate from the entire Senate and in the full view of the American people.

That is not only the proper course, but the one that is required by federal law. My own guess, however, is that Harry Reid would rather continue to thumb his nose at the law than expose the Democrats’ real fiscal plans to the American people.

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