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Senate Budget Panel Likely to Avoid Votes

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call

Score another point for Senate Democratic leaders: It appears the Senate Budget Committee likely won’t vote on a budget resolution after all.

Chairman Kent Conrad is set to reintroduce the Bowles-Simpson fiscal commission plan Wednesday. That’s the same framework that failed in 2010 to get enough votes in the president’s bipartisan deficit reduction commission and that was crushed last month in the House on a 38-382 vote.

But the North Dakota Democrat isn’t giving the proposal a chance to get shot down any time soon because there won’t be any amendments and there likely won’t be any votes. There will just be opening statements and another hearing to review the plan at an as-yet undetermined time.

Conrad indicated April 8 that he was inclined to hold a regular markup. Indeed, Budget ranking member Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) said he was “surprised” and “disappointed” by the change of plans. But Senate Democratic leaders have made no secret of their discomfort at making their caucus take tough votes on a nonbinding resolution that is almost certain to hit a wall in the GOP-led House. And Conrad’s belief that Republicans would not put forth a good-faith effort in the process caused him to shift back to his original idea to consider Bowles-Simpson, he said today.

“As we went through it, I concluded just putting up another partisan budget plan probably is not going to contribute much and changed course,” Conrad told reporters.

“No, I think the timing there would be all wrong,” he said about whether there would be votes on the plan soon. “If one is interested in really getting a result, which is my interest, the time is not yet right. Nothing could be more clear. You couldn’t have a clearer message than the House vote.”

In every political sense, Conrad was boxed in.

He was stuck between his genuine desire and responsibility to mark up a budget and his need to defend this summer’s Budget Control Act, a law he helped shape and one leaders have touted as the reason a budget resolution is unnecessary. Though sources say he does not want to retire at the end of this year without having at least tried to pass a budget, his legacy is less a concern to the vast number of Democrats up for re-election this cycle.  

Republicans have criticized Democrats for not passing a budget resolution in more than 1,000 days and expressed disappointment that one would not be done this year, but moving forward would have allowed Republicans to force unlimited floor votes on politically tinged budget amendments.

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