Senate Budget Committee to Move Forward With Markup

Posted April 9, 2012 at 7:19pm

The Senate Budget Committee is prepared to mark up a budget next week, potentially as early as April 17, according to sources close to the panel.

The move to proceed with a budget resolution in committee is counter to the initial desires of Democratic leaders, who are reluctant to bring a resolution to the floor. Though leaders rarely state this publicly, they have feared political repercussions, such as the threat of a limitless number of show votes or forcing vulnerable Members up for re-election to take politically undesirable votes.

But aides in both parties suggested today that they have been instructed to expect a markup to begin as early as April 17 and to stretch as long as April 19.

Representatives for the majority and minority staff declined to specify when a markup would occur, only saying that it would take place next week when Senators return from recess.

“The fact is, what we don’t have is a longer-term plan. That’s what I’m going to mark up the first week I’m back in session,” Senate Budget Chairman Kent Conrad said on “Fox News Sunday,” though at the time it was unclear whether the North Dakota Democrat meant a formal budget resolution or something that would be more informal and in the shape of the Bowles-Simpson deficit reduction plan released in 2010.

Sources close to the committee but not its leaders suggested they have been advised the panel will take up a budget in regular order, however, and that Members have been influencing the budget framework with recommendations for weeks.

Conrad, however, reinforced Sunday what Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has repeatedly said, that there is little desire to bring a budget resolution to the floor because government spending levels have been set for the imminent future by last summer’s Budget Control Act.

“That becomes a matter of time,” Conrad said on whether whatever comes out of committee will hit the floor. “Sen. Reid has made the judgment, perhaps quite correctly, that there is very little chance that we’re going to get the two sides together before the election.”

Democrats have taken a series of missteps on handling the public relations around the budget process, beginning with a request from the Senate parliamentarian to rule in favor of blocking budgets from being brought to the floor. Budget resolutions enjoy special privilege that only requires 51 votes to open debate, followed by a nearly limitless number of amendments if debate begins. The prospect of taking a seemingly infinite number of political votes, such as amendments banning Viagra for sex offenders that were slipped into a “vote-a-rama” on the 2010 health care law, is one Democrats do not want to entertain.

Though aides from both parties concede that the debate in committee, and on the floor if leaders allow, likely will prove futile, it will open the door for both Democrats and Republicans to hammer home their talking points on salient political issues in an election year.

A GOP source to a rank-and-file Member indicated that Republicans have been advised to try to make time April 16 for a Republican-only meeting of Members on the panel, and a representative for the committee confirmed that a meeting likely will happen before the markup, though an exact time has not been confirmed.

It’s too soon to predict strategy from either side, with most Members at home in their states as part of a two-week district work period.

But some sources suggest that Democrats will try to project the budget as “the Conrad Budget” in order to try to distance themselves from whatever plan is moved through committee in the event they have to vote against it, either on the panel or on the floor. There is no guarantee the plan will be approved by the budget panel even as it is marked up. Republicans likely will continue to push the narrative that Senate Democrats have not approved a formal budget resolution in three years.

Last year, the Senate voted on — and dismissed — four budgets: the House-approved Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) budget, President Barack Obama’s budget, and two offerings from freshman GOP Sens. Rand Paul (Ky.) and Pat Toomey (Pa.).