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GOP Spoiling for Budget Fight

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call
Senate Budget Chairman Kent Conrad has said his committee will mark up a budget proposal, but more recently he noted the Budget Control Act has already set the budget.

Senate Republicans see a political opportunity in their Democratic counterparts’ decision to forgo a budget blueprint this year.

As the GOP makes its case to voters to take back the majority, Republicans plan to argue that budgeting is a basic aspect of governing and shows where a party’s priorities lie.

“A budget is an important thing,” a Senate GOP leadership aide said.

It’s an idea, the aide noted, to which voters can relate: “Every household has to budget, or they lose the house.”

But for Democrats, a budget resolution fight would accomplish little beyond giving Republicans a chance to offer political amendments designed to put vulnerable incumbents on the spot. After all, the chance of reconciling a budget with the GOP House is a remote possibility, given the partisan political climate of this Congress.

So it was not a surprise Friday when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) confirmed what Republicans have long suspected: Democrats do not plan to bring a budget resolution to the Senate floor this year despite plans by Budget Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) to mark up a spending proposal in committee.

“We do not need to bring a budget to the floor this year. ... We already did it,” Reid said on a conference call with reporters Friday.

Reid said the Senate already has a budget in the spending levels that were set this past summer in the deal to raise the debt ceiling, also known as the Budget Control Act.

He said the law is stronger than a nonbinding budget resolution and that the Appropriations committees are already at work building off the spending levels set by that law.

Reid dismissed Republican attacks over the failure of Democrats to bring a budget resolution to the Senate floor since 2009.

“They haven’t anything better to do,” Reid said. “We have a law, not some idea, not some wish.”

Over the past few weeks, Conrad was confident about his budget resolution plans, but he seemed less sure Thursday.

“I don’t think we are prepared to make a judgment on what the likelihood is [for a budget resolution this year], until we have a proposal and reaction from people to that proposal,” Conrad said. Also, “we have a backup in place because of the Budget Control Act; we have a budget for this year.”

And Conrad dismissed possible Republican criticisms.

“It doesn’t matter what you do; in this town, you are subject to criticism,” Conrad said.

Republicans argue that to rely just on the debt ceiling deal and not make an effort to pass a budget resolution that further addresses the deficit is cowardly and shirks a basic responsibility. They also charge that Reid is simply trying to protect Democrats from difficult votes ahead of the November elections.

“I think everyone understands that ... [Reid] doesn’t want to expose his members to hard votes, but that is what we get elected to do,” National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn (Texas) said.

Cornyn, also a member of the Budget Committee, said he hopes to hit Democrats hard on the issue.

“The growth in the debt, I think, is directly related to the fact that we don’t have a budget and why we haven’t done what the president’s own bipartisan fiscal commission has recommended,” he said.

Cornyn added, “I think they have a very hard case to sell.”

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), also a Budget Committee member, said if Democrats do not bring a budget by mid-April, he intends to hold up routine business in the Senate to protest the lack of a budget. Under current law, Congress is expected to pass a budget by April 15.

“We better have a budget by April 15 or I will make a lot of noise. I will start withholding my consent on a regular basis here to make the point,” Johnson said.

“We need to make sure the Democratic Senators vote for something,” Johnson said. “They should be presenting something. They can pass a budget with 51 votes; they have 53. There is no reason this body should not pass a budget so the American people can see what the game plan is.”

Last year, Reid also declined to bring up a Democratic budget. Instead, he called a vote on the House GOP’s budget in order to vote it down. Democrats argue that budget would have made crippling changes and cuts to Medicare, among other things.

But Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) forced a vote on his version of the president’s budget, and several GOP Senators muscled their budget blueprints onto the floor as well. All of them failed to win a majority.

Under the law, the Budget Committee is scheduled to clear a budget resolution by April 1. After that date, Senators are free to try to bring their own budget proposals to the floor.

Republicans seldom miss an opportunity to note that Senate Democrats have not passed a budget resolution in three years, and they recently highlighted the thousandth day without a budget plan — Jan. 24, by the GOP’s count.

“Today is the thousandth day since the Democrats ... have passed a budget,” McConnell said. “Americans want to know why is Washington continuing to spend money we don’t have and living beyond its means. And of course, the first step is to adopt a budget, whether you’re Congress, whether you’re a family, whether you’re a small business, because that forces you to make hard choices that apparently [Reid] and his colleagues do not want to make.”

McConnell added that he intends to pass a budget plan every year if Republicans win back the majority.

“The law requires us to pass a budget,” McConnell said. “And it’s stunning ... that we’re now a thousand days since we last passed a budget. I don’t think the law says, ‘Pass a budget unless it’s hard.’ So I think there’s no question that we would take up our responsibility.”

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