A prolonged delay by Senate Democrats to present a budget is being criticized by Republicans as a failure to exercise a statutory responsibility, but Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) has defended his decision, saying, “Something very different is occurring this year.”
The Democratic-controlled Senate did not vote on a budget last year either, but Conrad did pass a budget through his committee.
Joshua Gordon, policy director with the Concord Coalition, says, “It is hard to know how much of the delay is political, and how much is policy based,” but there “are a bunch of different ways that it could play out.”
In a typical year, members of Congress mark up budgets in committees and then go to conference to work out the differences.
This year, a set of bipartisan negotiations ordered by the president have shaped up to be the most meaningful chance of a solution.
The talks, led by Vice President Joe Biden, are tasked with the goal of putting together a 5-to-10-year plan to reduce deficits and the debt. Conrad said in a Senate floor speech on Wednesday, he wants to wait to see the results of these negotiations.
“It makes no sense for us to go to a budget markup at this moment that would simply be a partisan markup when bipartisan efforts are underway,” Conrad said.
Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) the top Republican on the Senate Budget Committee, said to reporters that Conrad is only using excuses to “delay—delay with no end in sight.”
“It seems Senate Democrats are desperately trying to avoid having to present a budget to the American people. They know that the big spenders in their caucus prevent them from bringing forward a credible plan that both their party and the country can support,” Sessions said.
Conrad has said that his committee is close to agreeing, but he needs unanimous support, and Andrew Fieldhouse, federal budget policy analyst with the Economic Policy Institute, says it would be difficult but not impossible to get an agreement acceptable to all members of the committee.
Both Conrad and Gordon say the unfinished document likely contains a fairly even split between new revenue and spending cuts—a kind of centrist plan.
Fieldhouse says that any agreement reached by the Biden-led negotiations will have to be passed through Congress and it could be a tough vote.
He said a proposal that includes large tax increases “is going to have conservatives recoil at first glance, and you are just throwing fuel on a partisan fire.”
The Democratic majority may be wanting to preserve the support of the greatest number of Ssenators, as well as an option to use the reconciliation process, which enables Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to call a vote without the threat of a filibuster, allowing a simple majority to pass it.
“If Conrad marks up something prematurely, so that he can say we have a budget of our own, that really closes the most viable option for moving a long-term budget package,” Fieldhouse said.
Reid was quoted by the LA Times recently, saying, "There's no need to have a Democratic budget in my opinion. It would be foolish for us to do a budget at this stage."
Gordon said the debt-ceiling vote is also really complicating things this year.
A vote to raise the ceiling on allowable government debt must take place before Aug. 2 to avoid a government default. Members of Congress are calling for deficit reduction in exchange for supporting this crucial vote.
“I think the Democrats are sufficiently scared, and I think rightfully so, that there might need to be quick action to produce something to raise the debt ceiling,” Gordon said.
“It is not the normal breakdown of the budget process we expected. It is an abnormal breakdown of the budget process,” said Gordon.
Why the Democrats opposed proposals…