Regular order is totally awesome and the best example of a working Congress ... until it's not.
That was the lesson from the Senate on Monday, as Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., called on Republicans yet again to name conferees to a panel to merge the House and Senate budgets. As we wrote back in April when we got word of negotiations between Senate Budget Chairwoman Patty Murray, D-Wash., and House Budget Chairman Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., the whole question of whether to set up a conference committee has the GOP in a pickle:
"Republicans wary of proceeding to conference are now stuck between a rock and a hard place. For years, Senate Republicans had been bemoaning the fact that Senate Democrats had not done a budget. Now that they’ve done one, attempting to block an effort to reconcile the House and Senate budgets could look hypocritical at worst and politically miscalculated at best."
The entire Democratic argument can be summed up in one sentence from Reid's floor opener: "Why are my Republican colleagues so afraid?" And with nothing much to do this work period before Memorial Day, they'll probably keep asking.
"The Republicans longed for the days of regular order. We know because they told us so... But still the House has refused to... conference with us," Reid said Monday. "Since they got what they claimed they wanted, their interest in regular order has not just waned, it disappeared. They don't want to go to conference as we would under regular order that they said they wanted. They don't even want to name conferees."
Reid's gambit, however, fell a bit flat given that no Republicans bothered to show up at the Senate's opening to object to his request. Reid, as is customary, withdrew the proposal until someone in the opposing party was there to register their disapproval.
Of course, Reid's overall premise was that Congress should use a budget committee to replace the across-the-board cuts implemented through sequestration, something even Democratic aides concede would never happen. The likelihood that a budget conference committee actually would produce a mutually agreed upon framework are about as good as the Cubs winning the World Series this year. And most staffers concede that short of a "grand bargain" negotiated with the White House as one of the parties, sequestration is here to stay, too (unless, of course, you're a wealthy business traveler).
“There’s a better chance that Marco Rubio and Jay-Z will go on a concert tour this summer than there is [for] a conference agreement between Paul Ryan and Patty Murray,” a Senate aide told us recently.
Given the odds, why is Reid still using the floor to champion another failed, bipartisan venture? Well, it's good messaging for him. The beat-up-on-Paul-Ryan card has been one of the trumps in the deck since Senate Democrats launched their Policy Communications Center in 2011.
"We know the two sides won't agree on every aspect of the budget. We know finding common ground won't be easy. But we can get it done," Reid said Monday. "We used to do it until we've been stopped from doing everything by a tea-party-driven House of Representatives."