Conrad Calls GOP Bluff On Senate Budget

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All the Senate Republicans — and even some Democrats — who’ve attacked President Obama for refusing to embrace the storied Bowles-Simpson deficit-reduction plan in 2010 may end up with a chance to replace their preening with recorded votes.

Senate Budget Chairman Kent Conrad (D-ND) announced Tuesday that he will introduce the framework as a blueprint for the upper-chamber’s official budget resolution — a response to Republicans who for years have hectored him and his party for failing to advance a plan with a vision for the country’s future.

At a Capitol press briefing, Conrad downplayed expectations of the plan passing anytime soon, pointing out that it will take time for the fiscal commission report, issued in late 2010, to be adjusted for economic and policy developments that have occurred in the intervening months. He also expressed doubt that any long-term budget can be agreed to in the polarized 112th Congress.“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.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sahil Kapur is TPM's senior congressional reporter and Supreme Court correspondent. His articles have been published in the Huffington Post, The Guardian and The New Republic. Email him at sahil@talkingpointsmemo.com and follow him on Twitter at @sahilkapur.
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