Had the Budget Committee actually approved a plan, aides said, Senate Republicans were poised to vote in favor of opening debate on that framework, despite disagreeing on its content. They would take the political high ground, showing they were concerned enough with the country’s deficit problems to open debate on a budget they didn’t agree with.
Those are precisely the reasons why Senate Democratic leaders declined to craft a budget last year and why leaders continued to resist the idea when Conrad floated it earlier this month.
During August’s talks over the Budget Control Act, which raised the debt ceiling and set spending levels for the next fiscal year, Conrad told Sessions that he would mark up a budget resolution this year in order to secure more GOP votes on the pending agreement.
Today, Sessions said he believed Conrad reneged on that agreement, though he was quick to blame Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and rank-and-file Democrats for being afraid to take politically challenging votes.
“It was a failure to follow through on the pledge that he made, fundamentally, and I’m disappointed,” Sessions told reporters today. “I realize that it doesn’t have as much meaning since Reid had made clear he was not going to bring it up to the floor even if one was passed out of committee.”
“Sen. Conrad has spent many hours and years wrestling with the numbers,” Sessions said. “I think he wanted to lay down his vision. ... I’m confident he intended until recent days or hours to go forward with a normal markup, and I think there was an uprising, probably, and Members did not want to vote. They did not want to have to vote on the tough issues facing America. They wanted to punt.”
Democrats, of course, pushed back on the Alabama Republican’s critique, arguing that it was emblematic of what the continued fight might look like had they pressed forward with a real budget markup.
“It’s fair to say you would understand he’d be disappointed, but the fact is, he’d also be playing politics with the situation,” said one Democratic aide who tracks budget issues.
So instead of a controversial and difficult budget process this year, Members of the panel instead will present a series of opening statements staking out their position with little promise of acting on it.
The Bowles-Simpson recommendations call for about $4 trillion of savings over 10 years through a combination of entitlement reforms, tax increases and tax code reforms.
Over the past two years, Democrats have resisted changes to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security while Republicans have bristled at the idea of raising taxes.
Conrad, in addition to heading the Budget Committee, was a member of both the fiscal commission and the bipartisan “gang of six,” which worked for more than a year to produce a comprehensive deficit-reduction plan with little result.