CQ TODAY ONLINE NEWS
April 16, 2012 – 3:13 p.m.
Conrad Aims for Deficit Reduction
By Paul M. Krawzak, CQ Staff
Senate Budget Chairman
“What we need now . . . is a long-term plan,” the North Dakota Democrat said Monday after a closed-door meeting with Democratic members of the committee. “We’re still locking down details.”
Conrad, who is moving ahead with his plan despite Senate Majority Leader
Although Conrad provided little information, the proposal is likely to be what he will call a “balanced” plan that pairs increased revenue with spending cuts to lower deficits and shrink the debt as a share of the economy. It might borrow heavily from deficit reduction proposals Conrad helped write when he served on the president’s fiscal commission in 2010 and as a member of the Senate’s bipartisan Gang of Six last year. Those plans aimed to reduce the deficit by about $4 trillion over a decade.
The Senate Democratic budget will serve as an alternative to the plan (
The House GOP plan sets a discretionary spending limit of $1.028 trillion next year, $19 billion below the cap in the August debt limit law. Conrad’s budget will hew to the discretionary limits set in that law (PL 112-25).
The Conrad budget is no sure thing even to make it through the committee, where it probably will need the support of all 11 Democrats and independent
Republicans have repeatedly criticized Senate Democrats for not producing or voting on a budget since 2009. The Budget Committee adopted a budget resolution in 2010, but Reid did not allow a floor vote. Conrad produced several budget drafts last year but never brought one before the committee amid negotiations to raise the debt limit.
Reid and Conrad agree that a budget resolution is not necessary because the discretionary spending limit for next year is already set in the debt limit law. But Conrad announced in January he would mark up a budget to keep a pledge he made to
Democrats have been meeting on the budget for weeks but declined to discuss it.
Sessions said he doesn’t know what is in the plan. But during a lunch with Conrad several weeks ago, Sessions said, the chairman indicated that he hoped to use the resolution to lay out his vision for the country.
Senate Democrats are “unable to agree on a course of action to move America out of the debt crisis we’re in,” Sessions said. “They’re just paralyzed. And I think Sen. Conrad feels badly about it and did not feel that he would leave the Senate not having complied with the statutory requirement that the committee consider a budget.”
Conrad Aims for Deficit Reduction
Many Democrats are uncomfortable with even allowing a Democratic budget to be introduced, and in recent days there was pressure on Reid to prevent it from happening. The proposal is likely to include tax increases, so it will almost certainly not get any votes from the 11 Republicans on the committee. At the same time, it is likely to divide Democrats, with some objecting to its tax increases and others critical of any cuts to Medicare or Medicaid in the plan.
Even if it gets out of committee, Democratic leaders are loath to create opportunities for Republicans to score political points in floor votes on the measure through a “vote-a-rama,” an opportunity during consideration of a budget resolution for senators to offer scores of amendments.
Budget Committee member
Conrad is not seeking re-election in November after five terms, however, and is willing to take a chance of not getting the plan out of committee.
“I do believe that part of this is a legacy issue” with Conrad, said G. William Hoagland, vice president for federal affairs at Cigna and a former top GOP Senate budget aide. “It’s his last budget, his last opportunity to have a statement. And to his credit, he feels that that’s the job of the Budget Committee and he ought to report a budget.”
The Conrad plan could include reconciliation instructions, requiring Senate committees to reduce the deficit by specifying cuts in mandatory programs, raising taxes or both. Individual committee plans would be packaged into a single bill and receive expedited consideration on the Senate floor, but only under an unlikely agreement between the House and Senate on a budget resolution.
A similar reconciliation process is under way in the House, where six committees are marking up deficit reduction plans this week and next.
Frances Symes and Kerry Young contributed to this story.