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POLITICS

$38,976,000 can't buy a budget from Senate Dems

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Politics,Beltway Confidential,Joel Gehrke

Senate Democrats have avoided passing a budget for three straight years as of today. What's more, Democratic senators are surprisingly open in admitting they won't pass one this year, either, in order to avoid an embarrassing vote before this fall's election.

"This is the wrong time to vote in committee; this is the wrong time to vote on the floor," Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad, D-N.D. said on April 18th. "I don’t think we will be prepared to vote before the election." In a sense, it was indeed the wrong time. Senate Democrats had already missed the legal deadline for submitting a budget resolution (April 15th) as they had in the two previous years.

"For three years, in the midst of fiscal crisis, the party running the Senate refused to even attempt to produce their financial plan in willful and knowing defiance of the law," Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., said in a statement on this three-year anniversary of the last Senate budget.

He added that "neither [Obama] nor his Senate majority has any business asking the American people to send one more dime in new taxes to this dysfunctional government."

Democrats have offered a variety of excuses for the lack of the budget. White House Chief of Staff Jack Lew, for instance, blamed Republicans for the lack of a Senate budget.

"You can't pass a budget in the Senate of the United States without 60 votes, and you can't get 60 votes without bipartisan support," he said on CNN in February.  "So unless Republicans are willing to work with Democrats in the Senate, Harry Reid is not going to be able to get a budget passed."

Lew was either badly misinformed or lying. The Senate can pass a budget with a simple majority -- at most 51 votes -- and the Democrats control 53 seats in the Senate.  As a former White House budget director, Lew should have known that Harry Reid could pass a budget without a single Republican vote in support.

Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., tried to make the same argument about the lack of a budget -- "when you start hammering 60 votes on to everything, our majority is a majority of name only," he told MSNBC's Joe Scarborough -- but Scarborough, a former congressman, stopped him in his tracks.

When Scarborough observed that they don't need 60 votes, Durbin answered "I can't argue the point." That was in December of 2011.

Now Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., argues that last year's debt limit deal counts as a budget because it sets a cap on how much Congress can spend. Of course, setting caps on spending is a far cry from telling the American people how much money the government plans to spend, and on what.

Reid's claim is undermined by the fact that Senate Democrats are still talking about passing a budget -- but only after the election. Sen. Kent Conrad. D-N.D. and Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., have both predicted that a budget will be taken up during the lame duck session, which takes place after the election but before the new elected officials take office. (Incidentally, they would then have to pass a budget and have a showdown over automatic tax increases and doomsday defense spending cuts scheduled to take effect on January 1, 2013.)

Every now and then, a Senate Democrat explains that the majority won't pass a budget because they're afraid of being voted out of office if the American people know just how much they plan to spend.

As Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.V., speculated last year, "they don't want to risk the next election" by passing a budget. Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad, D-N.D., confirmed Manchin's theory with his comments about this being the "wrong time to vote."

Nelson, a former governor of Nebraska, explained to The Washington Examiner this week that Senate Democrats don't want to take "difficult votes" on the budget before the election. Nelson said they would work to pass a budget during the lame-duck session, which he predicted will be a "dizzyduck" due to all the legislation they will have to pass.

Senate Democrats controlled 59 seats in the 2009-2010 Congress (leaving aside, for the moment, the several months when Democrats had a supermajority). Fifty-eight made $174,000 annually, while Reid made $193,000 annually. They collectively drew a cool $20,570,000 in taxpayer money.

The Democrats lost six Senate seats in the 2010 elections because they accumulated more debt than the first 100 Congresses combined, but they didn't change their approach to budgeting.

The 53-seat Democratic majority, along with the two independents who caucus with them, will collectively have been paid another $18,482,000 over 2011 and 2012.

For all of that money -- $38,976,000 since 2009 -- the taxpayers are rewarded with a Democratic majority so desperate to keep their jobs that they won't even do them.

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