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Conrad Budget Plan Puzzling

Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call File Photo
“Everyone is scratching their head” over Senate Budget Chairman Kent Conrad moving a budget blueprint this week, a Democratic staffer said.

A decision by retiring Senate Budget Chairman Kent Conrad to move a budget blueprint this week has sparked questions over whether he is looking to bolster his legacy at the expense of his Democratic colleagues who are running for re-

“Everyone is scratching their head” about the North Dakota Democrat’s move, one Senate Democratic staffer said. “I think everybody assumes there is some bigger agenda that is driving this because it doesn’t make sense and it’s not going to be helpful.”

The staffer suggested that Conrad might be compelled to try to pass a budget resolution because it is his last year as committee chairman. Conrad’s office did not respond to a request for comment on the topic of his legacy.

House Budget ranking member Chris Van Hollen also seemed to question the need for a Senate markup, given that discretionary spending for fiscal 2013 is set by the Budget Control Act, the compromise law that raised the debt ceiling last summer.

“I think for this year that the main battle, discussion, is going to be over discretionary spending, and therefore the Budget Control Act provisions should govern that,” the Maryland Democrat said after a press conference Thursday. “And with respect to issues like tax policy and other major questions, those will be battled out in the election.”

Still, Van Hollen did put forward his own budget as a foil to House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan’s (R-Wis.) proposal, which the House passed last month.

But Van Hollen’s comments echoed those of Democratic leaders who have repeatedly said no budget resolution is needed this year because the BCA suffices.

And while Senate Republicans have been hammering the majority for not passing a full budget plan in the past two fiscal years, Democrats seemed unconcerned, arguing that the criticism doesn’t resonate with most voters outside Washington, D.C.

Conrad came to the Senate in 1986 pledging to reduce the debt and deficit and has earned a reputation as a budget hawk, helping lead various efforts to curb the deficit. For example, he conceived the president’s deficit reduction commission, known as Simpson-Bowles after its co-chairmen. But Senate Democratic leaders in recent years have not sought to pass a budget as Congress has become more politically polarized. Since 2011, the chances of the House Republicans and Senate Democrats coming to a compromise on a budget resolution have been remote at best given the deep partisan divisions and campaign-style tactics.

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