Conrad Floats Idea of a Two-Budget Year

Posted February 27, 2009 at 2:35pm

Could Congress actually pass two budgets this year? That idea — sure to launch a thousand groans on Capitol Hill — was floated Thursday by Senate Budget Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), one of the few who might enjoy the prospect.

Conrad said he does not favor including reconciliation protections for health care or climate change in the budget resolution, which would exempt a bill from filibusters. But he cautioned that no decisions have been made, and then noted that it’s possible to do a second budget resolution later this year if needed.

It’s not unprecedented to a have a second budget — indeed, the 1974 Budget Act technically required it, although Congress rarely followed through.

Theoretically, Democrats could as a gesture of bipartisanship avoid the reconciliation process, forcing them to round up 60 votes for the critical issues of health care and carbon caps, and if negotiations bog down, pass a new budget resolution containing reconciliation protections and ram a bill through with as few as 50 Senators with Vice President Joseph Biden breaking a tie.

But Jim Horney, a budget expert and former Congressional staffer at the left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, said doing two budgets is very difficult, and most House and Senate Members probably wouldn’t want to do it.

“You go through the same pain and suffering you do on the first one,” Horney said. That includes the prospects for an unlimited vote-a-rama on the Senate floor and a huge chunk of floor time.

Congress has had a hard time passing even a single budget resolution recently, particularly one with controversial items in it, although Democrats’ larger Senate majority and expansive agenda this year could embolden them.

Rep. Paul Ryan (Wis.), the ranking Republican on the House Budget Committee, said he assumes Democrats will try to use reconciliation for health care and climate change.

“I would if I were them,” he said.