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Senate Democrats Will Work on Budget Resolution in Committee

The one moderately effective charge that Republicans have been making at Democrats with respect to the budget process is that the Senate hasn’t passed a budget in over 1,000 days. That’s a fairly simplistic rendering. This really only refers to a budget resolution – if there wasn’t a budget there wouldn’t be a working federal government – and the Budget Control Act of last year set the kinds of spending targets that you would see in a budget resolution, and set them for 10 years. This is the argument Senate Democrats have been making, that the work has already been done.

But this hasn’t quieted the criticism, and so next week, Kent Conrad will begin a markup on the Senate version of the budget.

The move to proceed with a budget resolution in committee is counter to the initial desires of Democratic leaders, who are reluctant to bring a resolution to the floor. Though leaders rarely state this publicly, they have feared political repercussions, such as the threat of a limitless number of show votes or forcing vulnerable Members up for re-election to take politically undesirable votes.

But aides in both parties suggested today that they have been instructed to expect a markup to begin as early as April 17 and to stretch as long as April 19 […]

Conrad, however, reinforced Sunday what Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has repeatedly said, that there is little desire to bring a budget resolution to the floor because government spending levels have been set for the imminent future by last summer’s Budget Control Act.

Republicans in the House have taken a different approach, viewing the expected gridlock as giving them the freedom to generate a fantasy budget that ends the Medicare guarantee and cuts long-term non-defense discretionary spending almost entirely. Senate Democrats want to protect their members. But opening a debate on a budget resolution only requires 50 votes, not 60. You could even have a couple members not interested in a budget debate because of electoral repercussions not vote for it. The real fear is the process of unlimited amendments, where anyone can put a budget up for a vote, or non-germane amendments like we saw in reconciliation on the health care law (remember “banning Viagra for sex offenders?”). But if you cannot as a Democrat vote in a credible way on things like ending Medicare or tax cuts for the rich, that’s really your problem, no? The public polling on questions like that is pretty clear.

What’s most likely here is that some kind of budget resolution will get to the Senate floor and get voted down. And then Republicans will get to continue their message of “1000 days without a House budget,” while eliding their role in that by voting against one.

Meanwhile, does anyone believe Paul Ryan’s claim of “secret” Democratic support for his budget?

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David Dayen

David Dayen