CQ TODAY ONLINE NEWS
April 17, 2012 – 10:56 p.m.
Conrad to Hold No Votes on Budget
By Frances Symes, CQ Staff
Senate Budget Chairman
The North Dakota Democrat plans to offer his budget resolution without a final vote or possible amendments. Instead, Conrad hopes the plan modeled on recommendations from the president’s 2010 fiscal commission will jump-start negotiations on a bipartisan agreement in the committee while remaining outside the rancor that has surrounded budget debates in Congress.
Avoiding a vote also allows Conrad to meet the concerns of Senate Majority Leader
Conrad said his decision to put forward a “bipartisan” proposal will “disappoint some on both sides of the aisle.” But Conrad, who served on the fiscal commission and has since advocated for a comprehensive, balanced deficit reduction plan as a member of the bipartisan Gang of Six, said he is “not interested in furthering the political divide” by putting forward a partisan plan.
Having a markup without a vote, however, didn’t appear to close any divisions between Democrats and Republicans.
Although several panel Democrats expressed support for Conrad’s move on Tuesday, Alabama’s
Reid expressed broad support for Conrad, but he would not discuss the plan itself or the role it may play in future negotiations. “No one in the Congress — no one in the Congress — understands the fiscal problems of this country more than
Reid says the Senate does not need a budget resolution because last year’s debt deal (PL 112-25) set an overall spending cap for fiscal 2013. Conrad echoed Reid’s argument, pointing to the section of the debt law that says the discretionary spending levels it sets “shall apply in the Senate in the same manner as for a concurrent resolution on the budget for fiscal 2013.”
Matter of Timing
The budget Conrad will present to his committee on Wednesday proposes $5.4 trillion in deficit reduction over 10 years, including the spending cuts already enacted. It includes an overhaul of the tax code that would raise revenue, as well as additional changes to entitlement programs.
The proposal is sure to garner criticism from both sides of the aisle, just as the deficit commission’s plan did when it was released in December 2010. That plan got 11 votes of the 18-member panel, short of the 14-vote threshold needed to send it to Congress. An attempt to advance a budget alternative based on the commission’s framework, commonly known as the Simpson-Bowles plan after its co-chairmen — Erskine Bowles, former White House chief of staff under Bill Clinton, and Alan K. Simpson of Wyoming, a former Republican senator — gained only 38 “yes” votes in the House in March.
Conrad said Tuesday the overwhelming vote against the framework in the House had helped convince him the “timing is not yet right” for a vote on the plan in the Senate. Rather, Conrad said, he hopes his proposal will spur negotiations on a long-term spending plan aimed at reducing the deficit before a series of major tax and spending decisions after the election.
“What becomes very clear is how long it takes to do this work,” he said. “It is important that we begin.”
Conrad to Hold No Votes on Budget
Conrad, who is retiring at the end of this term, said he hoped members of Congress could reach agreement on a long-term plan before the election but recognized “the chances of that are slim.” He and other proponents of a broad, bipartisan deficit reduction plan that includes increased revenues as well as spending cuts and changes to entitlement programs have said repeatedly in recent months they view the lame-duck session as a prime opportunity. “That may be the only time members on both sides of the aisle will be willing to move off their fixed positions,” Conrad said Tuesday.
In the meantime, he said, proponents of some version of the fiscal commission’s plan “need time to educate” and negotiate, which is “going to take considerable effort.”
Pressing For Votes
Republicans are expected to push for Senate votes on several budget proposals in the coming weeks, and may try to force a vote on Conrad’s proposal. Budget Committee member
Sessions sharply criticized Senate Democrats for trying to avoid casting politically difficult votes on a budget proposal.
“It’s not a question of lack of time,” he said. “It’s a lack of will, a lack of courage, and a lack of ability, I think, on the Democratic Party to unify to have a vision for America.”
The House, meanwhile, voted to deem the GOP House-adopted budget resolution as the final budget resolution adopted by the House and Senate. The procedural maneuver effectively sets the House’s discretionary spending cap at $1.028 trillion, or $19 billion below the amount agreed to in last year’s debt limit law that the Senate will use in its appropriations sessions.
The move clears the way for the house appropriations committee to consider spending bills that fall under the cap.
Paul M. Krawzak and Niels Lesniewski contributed to this story.