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Conrad’s Bowles-Simpson Rollout Has a Misstep

Let’s just say that Kent Conrad’s mark-up of the Bowles-Simpson plan yesterday in the Senate Budget Committee didn’t go according to the script. The “markup” didn’t include any votes, first of all. This was by design, but it turned the proceedings into something of a farce.

Some Republicans argued that Conrad should have allowed votes to see what parts of Bowles-Simpson could have survived.

At the markup, Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), who voted for Bowles-Simpson as a member of the commission, implored Conrad to bring the plan up for a vote. He argued that even if it is picked apart, at least some elements could be advanced.

Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) a member of GOP leadership, and former Bush budget director Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) also argued that Bowles-Simpson should be the starting point for an open amendment process.

Conrad and Democrats present argued that closed-door negotiations are the only way to go from here. The markup then devolved into accusations by the GOP that the Senate majority was ignoring the deficit and by Democrats that the GOP had violated the August debt deal by seeking lower spending in 2013 in the House budget.

Some of the amendments sought by the Republicans included such magnanimous ideas as repealing the health care law, something to do with the GSA Vegas junket scandal, and a provision that would allow the House budget, with its spending under the targets from the debt limit deal, to go forward. The White House already escalated that fight today, by saying they would not sign any appropriations bills with the lower numbers.

Partisans on both sides pounced on Bowles-Simpson’s troubles. I liked Don Owens’ statement:

“To be honest, I can’t think of too many more ways that the B-S plan could be rejected,” said Don Owens, of Social Security Works, which opposes the cuts to Social Security benefits in the Bowles-Simpson plan. “It’s been rejected by the commission that created it, the president, the House, the Senate and most voters. Generations worked to create our Social Security, B-S dismantles it, and voters reject that.”

Conrad’s plan was to go behind closed doors with Bowles-Simpson and create an off-the-shelf solution when one is needed in the lame duck session to avoid the fiscal cliff. But the negative reaction on practically all sides to his maneuver yesterday makes it more difficult. Establishment media publications paint Conrad as a truth-teller, but nobody’s buying what he’s selling.

Meanwhile, Pat Toomey wants to put the Ryan budget on the Senate floor. Because of a favorable Parliamentarian ruling, Toomey can introduce his own budget resolution and get a vote. To which I say, great! If Scott Brown and Dean Heller want to be put in the position of having to choose on a budget that ends the Medicare guarantee, go to it. And Toomey’s budget cuts far more deeply than Ryan’s, coming into balance by 2021 instead of 2040, making it an even heavier lift for threatened Republicans.

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David Dayen

David Dayen

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