On Tuesday, Kent Conrad, the chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, proposed a budget resolution based on the 2010 Bowles-Simpson blueprint that, to a Beltway-outsider, looked like a responsible approach to tackling the deficit. New America’s Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget applauded the proposal in a press release yesterday.
But Conrad’s announcement was met with little applause on either side of the aisle, even from lawmakers who supported the plan in 2010. That’s because he acted in direct opposition to the immediate interests of both parties. Harry Reid and the Democratic leadership didn’t want Conrad to propose a budget because they already set the discretionary spending numbers for this year in last August’s bipartisan Budget Control Act: A discretionary spending number is essentially the only tangible outcome of a budget resolution that does not get passed by both houses. The likelihood of a budget resolution passing both houses is small to nonexistent.
To Reid, and other Democratic leaders, proposing a budget serves only one purpose: It opens Democrats up to attacks.
Which is partly what the GOP wanted. Republicans like Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) and Rep. Paul Ryan ( R-WI) have attacked Conrad repeatedly because he didn’t propose a budget last year, while Ryan’s budget proposal opened up the GOP to searing analysis and criticism.
But here’s the problem, in the Republicans’ eyes: Even though Conrad has proposed a budget, he doesn’t plan on doing much with it before the election. Conrad said there won’t be a vote on the proposal or a debate on amendments in committee.
Conrad’s decision to keep the proposal in a holding pattern saves Democrats from a tricky pre-election vote on the resolution’s tax-raising measures. This has also unleashed Republican ire.
But the move allows Conrad, who will retire early next year, to cast himself as a centrist, bipartisan character in the often theatrical budget debate.
"Some Democrats will be disappointed that there's not another plan to rally around, and some Republicans will be disappointed that there's not another plan to attack,” he said today. “But I am not interested in furthering the political divide. I am focused on trying to get a positive result for the country.”
Photo credit: Larry Downing / Reuters