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Senate Democrats Muted on Obama Budget

Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call
Democratic Senators such as Kent Conrad (at podium) have been circumspect in their remarks about President Barack Obama's proposed 2013 budget in part because budget issues could present risks to Senators' re-election efforts.

While President Barack Obama was rallying the faithful around a politically minded budget laden with base-nourishing tax and spending proposals, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was keeping a low profile.

Democratic leaders such as House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (Md.) and even Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray (Wash.) produced enthusiastic press releases extolling the budget’s vision and virtue, but the Nevada Democrat was mum.

And, when he went to the floor Monday afternoon — long after the budget had been delivered and an 11:15 a.m. embargo had been lifted — Reid focused on the mundane goings-on of the Senate chamber in his opening remarks.

In fact, when Reid did touch on a president’s plan for spending, it wasn’t to reference Obama’s newly proposed budget — or, in fact, any of Obama’s budget plans.

Instead, Reid referenced former President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s bold push for a transnational highway system in the 1950s, intoning solemnly that, “President Eisenhower, a Republican, said the investment would pave the way for a new era of American growth.”

He did not note that a key piece of Obama’s budget deals with the need to pass a new authorization of the highway bill, a version of which the Senate is debating this week.

Reid’s hesitancy to talk about the budget is understandable; the Senate hasn’t produced a budget in almost three years, while the House Democrats and Republicans as well as the Obama administration have produced two of their own. House Democrats even produced an “alternative” budget last year as a foil to Budget Chairman Paul Ryan’s (Wis.) controversial plan to change Medicare.

However, Reid has said repeatedly that he doesn’t plan to bring a Senate budget plan to the floor this year because the August 2011 deal to raise the debt ceiling serves as a de facto budget. It included the discretionary spending caps needed to write the annual spending bills for this year.

A Senate Democratic aide explained, “We’ve completed the budget exercise ... and are now focused on creating jobs.”

While Obama’s blueprint may fire up the base, the aide said Senate Democrats are unconcerned with election fallout from their decision to sidestep the budget this year because fights over process do not resonate.  “We are funding the government,” the aide said. Voters “don’t care if [we] put out a nonbinding blueprint, and nothing Republicans say will make them,” the aide added.

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