It has now been 1,086 days since the Democrat-held Senate has passed a budget. On April 29th, just nine days from now, it will have been three full years since Democrats upheld their constitutional duty to adopt a fiscal plan.
On Monday that streak of futility and cowardice appeared to be coming to an end. Senate Budget Chairman Kent Conrad (D-ND) announced that he would try and pass a budget out of the Budget Committee for the first time since 2009.
Granted, it was purely a sham. Rather than make any of the difficult choices themselves Democrats were set to trot out a version of the Bowles-Simpson plan that was issued a few years ago. Like all bills must, Conrad envisioned it going through the markup process in committee before ultimately getting a vote.
Until, that is, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid got a whiff of the plan and immediately squashed the idea. Chastened, Conrad was then forced to go through a fake, patently absurd committee process in which no markup of the bill was done, no amendments were considered, and no votes were taken.
Do you know what a committee markup is called when no votes are taken? A meeting. The distinction is crucial. Here’s former White House economic adviser Keith Hennessey discussing the matter:
“The job of a Member of Congress is to vote on legislation, not to talk about legislation. Talk is sometimes helpful but if Members of Congress are not voting they’re not doing their job.
Press coverage often equates public statements with votes. That’s a huge mistake. While it’s easy to speak against a policy you oppose, casting a vote against it increases the public pressure on you to support an alternative and cast an affirmative vote for it. Even failed votes can drive legislative progress by pressuring members to say what they’re not for, not just what they’re against.”
None of this is what Conrad likely had in mind for his last go-round in budget writing.
“I had considered presenting a budget that reflected the general consensus among the Democratic Members of the Committee,” explained an obviously frustrated Conrad. “[But] many plans have already been offered that lean right or lean left. Adding another to the stack would do little to move us closer to a bipartisan agreement that can actually be adopted.”
It was a cringe-worthy scene, especially for the outgoing Budget Committee Chairman, who has only managed to pass two budgets during his entire tenure. “He’s resigned to the fact that the Democrats are not going to pass a budget, which is a disappointment to him,” Sen. Jeff Sessions, the top Republican on the Budget Committee, told Politico. “He is resigned to the fact that the Simpson-Bowles commission he served on has not been recognized in law. And I think that has been very difficult for him.”
But let’s set aside the Conrad sob story for a moment and remember who is the real loser in all of this – Americans. Congress doesn’t only have a statutory duty to pass a budget (the Congressional Budget Act requires both chambers to produce budget resolutions by April 15th), the key is that they have a moral duty to do so.
That’s because a budget represents a path towards fiscal responsibility, it is intended to express the outline by which a party envisions solving the debt crisis we face. To completely avoid the task as “too politically difficult” is to completely resign America to default.
Sadly, the moral imperative has given way to the irrepressible desire among Democrats to get reelected. As one Senate Democratic aide said of Chuck Schumer (D-NY), “He led the fight in the Senate against releasing our budget. He backed the idea that a budget paints a giant target on your back unnecessarily when it’s not going to pass anyway.”
If they realize that their budget, which presumably contains enormous spending and tax increases, would paint a target on their back, why not take some steps to change it? If you have to hide your agenda behind some impenetrable legislative process in the hopes that nobody notices do you really deserve to be in office?
No. But that hasn’t stopped Democrats from trying for the last 1,086 days. And sadly, without significant change in November, it may be another 1,000 days before Senate Democrats pass a budget.