"It's going to require a lot of negotiation, and the negotiation is going to take time," Conrad told reporters, adding that it "could be" months before the committee votes on a final product. "If one is interested in really getting a result, the time is not yet right. Nothing could be more clear. ... I don't rule out being able to act more quickly. But I think the greater likelihood is it won't come until the election."
The Bowles-Simpson plan seeks to cut defense and safety-net spending while raising significant new tax revenues in order to reduce the deficit by trillions of dollars. Conservatives have balked at the revenue increases while progressives have strongly criticized the plan's proposed cuts, particularly to Social Security.
Conrad's move is part of a political effort to quiet a barrage of Republican criticism that Democrats have not passed a long-term budget resolution in more than 1,000 days. As Budget Committee chairman in the Democratic-led chamber, Conrad has borne the brunt of that.
While he'll almost surely face some Democratic push back, it also puts Republicans in a predicament: They have fiercely criticized President Obama for not championing Bowles-Simpson when the co-chairmen of his deficit commission first unveiled it, but it's highly unlikely that they would support the plan if it comes up for a vote, given its call for trillions in revenue over current policy.
Conrad pointed out, as he often has, that Congress has already approved spending limits for the coming years in the Budget Control Act, which has more authority than a budget resolution because it has been signed into law.
"[I]t is important to remember that we already have a budget for this year and next," he said in an official statement. "The Budget Control Act provided us with spending limits and enforcement measures for 2012 and 2013. It is the law of the land. What we need is a bipartisan long-term plan that can actually pass Congress."
Asked about Conrad's plans before his announcement, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) told reporters he has full confidence in the chairman.