Kent Conrad has decided to shelve his budget while high-level talks continue on a long-term deficit reduction solution tied to the debt limit. Conrad’s plan got mixed reviews initially from within the caucus, but he altered it to capture the votes of Democrats on the Budget Committee, including Bernie Sanders (I-VT). The latest reports claimed that the budget included a millionaire’s surtax, and was balanced equally between spending cuts and tax increases. Conrad didn’t see any point in a “partisan markup” at this point. “If you go through a partisan markup, it hardens people’s positions and makes it more difficult to get a bipartisan agreement,” he said. This was definitely on the mind of Paul Ryan, I take it.
But the news here is buried late in the story.
In addition to the political reasons for waiting to see whether the Biden talks produce an agreement, Conrad said there are procedural reasons as well. Budget deals in 1990 and 1997 relied on a special fast-track process known as reconciliation to push debt-reduction plans through Congress, he said.
Reconciliation bills, which cannot be filibustered in the Senate, are authorized through a budget resolution. Approving a budget resolution now, Conrad said, could make it more difficult to use reconciliation and, therefore, to implement any bipartisan deal.
There’s your real reason for the delay. A reconciliation bill would only need 50 votes. There’s nothing untoward about this; in fact, reconciliation was built for deficit reduction. Of course, the House would have to comply with this as well, but seeing that this makes any deal much easier to implement, I assume they’d go along with a reconciliation strategy. So this makes any bill harder for liberal Democrats to stop. Harder for Tea Party Republicans as well, but in the Senate that’s not big enough a faction.
Meanwhile, Harry Reid drew a line in the sand on taxes yesterday.
Battle lines in federal debt talks sharpened markedly Thursday when the Senate’s top Democrat rejected a proposal for $2 trillion in budget cuts as demanded by House Speaker John A. Boehner, saying any cuts must be accompanied by action on closing tax loopholes.
“You can’t do $2 trillion just in cuts,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said in an interview in his Capitol office. “There has to be a mix of spending cuts, including defense. There has to be a more fair apportionment of tax policy in this country.”
Boehner and Mitch McConnell want the kind of “grand bargain” where they get all spending cuts in exchange for the government being allowed to pay its past debts. And they think that’s totally reasonable.
In public, that’s their stance, anyway. After the dust settles, we could see some deal with token cuts to tax expenditures coupled with some really nasty reconfiguring of Medicaid. And it would only need 50 votes in the Senate.