Kent Conrad will present his long-term budget plan today, and you’ll be surprised to know that it shares no meaningful difference with the budget plan Bernie Sanders has been touting of late. Indeed, it includes a 50/50 ratio between tax increases and spending cuts. We’re in a topsy-turvy world when a plan that cuts the budget deficit by $4 trillion over the next 10 years is considered “leftist,” but austerity has won the day inside Washington, and so this is really the left pole in the debate.

A 50-50 split is a departure from the ratio of higher tax revenues and spending cuts recommended by President Obama and his fiscal commission, chaired by former Sen. Alan Simpson (R-Wyo.) and former Clinton White House Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles.

At a speech at George Washington University in April, Obama recommended a three-to-one ratio of spending cuts to tax increases, according to a fact sheet released by the White House.

The Simpson-Bowles commission recommended a ratio of spending cuts to increased government revenues of roughly 2.2 to 1 to reduce the deficit […]

Another Senate Democratic source said the budget will include a substantial allocation for transportation funding, which could fund programs such as the infrastructure bank and Build America Bonds.

“It’s significantly to the left of us,” said an aide to a centrist on the committee, who downplayed Conrad’s budget plan as a framework.

Actually, Simpson-Bowles was more like 3:1 and the Obama speech in April 4:1. It depends on how you process their reduction based on foregone interest payments on reduced debt. And of course, the deal on the table that Republicans denied was closer to 6:1.

No details on the specific tax hikes and cuts as of yet, or whether there’s any breathing space, so the deficit reduction doesn’t begin until after the recovery takes hold. Sanders actually did write this budget, in a way, because Conrad knew he couldn’t get through the Senate Budget Committee and lose one member who caucuses with the Democrats. So that’s how we got here. But because Congress doesn’t like to use the standard committee process a whole lot anymore, preferring to sit in “gangs” or “summits” and make deals directly between the chief executive and the leadership, I doubt that this actual balanced plan will have much of an impact. This is despite the fact that Sanders got 100,000 signatures through his Senate website on a petition calling for shared sacrifice and just this kind of balanced revenue/spending split. Sanders has done a great job using his position to impact the budget process. But that works in a different time, when Congress mattered.

If we had an actual functioning Congress, this would start out as the Senate plan, with the House having passed their own. And the legislators would work us into a compromise, to be resolved in the normal course of the budget process, wrapping up by the end of the fiscal year in September. Instead, Republicans have taken the unprecedented step of holding the debt limit hostage for these kinds of long-ranging changes, and the President essentially agrees, saying we have “a unique opportunity to do something big.” A short-term addition to the debt limit has been eschewed.

Why that’s seen as a better way of doing business isn’t clear. Oh wait, it isn’t, it’s just a way to achieve maximalist ends.

David Dayen

David Dayen

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