White House: Congress’ Budget Blueprints Aren’t Setback

The big budget news (always an eyeball grabber) is that Senate Budget Committee chairman Kent Conrad (D-ND) and his House counterpart John Spratt (D-SC) are taking machetes to Obama’s proposal, released last month. The Washington Post reports that the two are poised to release budget blueprints that “cut hundreds of billions of dollars from Obama’s spending request over the next five years.”

But is there really any there, there? Short answer: not really. The blueprints, called resolutions, aren’t binding on the work of congressional committees, which are still plowing ahead with their legislative agendas. And at the same time, many of Conrad’s changes are geared more toward hiding spending than toward specific cuts. For instance, “Conrad…pressed some Bush-era budget maneuvers eliminated by Obama back into service: Instead of a 10-year budget that shows deficits steadily accumulating, for example, Conrad is proposing a five-year spending plan.”On a conference call with reporters this morning, Obama’s budget director Peter Orszag held firmly to this line, calling the congressional resolutions siblings of the Obama proposal, and insisting that particular changes–like Conrad’s move to leave Obama’s health care proposal out of the resolution–don’t really matter. “Whether the budget resolution included specific offsets or not is not particularly relevant,” Orszag said. “The point is that the finance committee has been tasked with coming up with a deficit neutral health reform.”

At last night’s press conference, though, Obama himself sounded a somewhat different note, “Well, I’ve emphasized repeatedly what I expect out of this budget. I expect that there’s serious efforts at health care reform and that we are driving down costs for families and businesses, and ultimately for the federal and state governments that are going to be broke if we continue on the current path. ”

Much of this comes down to semantics, but this is yet another sign that Obama and Conrad are on different pages. Similarly, Orszag repeated his contention that the White House would prefer not to pass health care reform through the reconciliation process, but that the option’s still on the table. Conrad is famously opposed to the idea.