President Obama's DOA budget faces an AWOL Senate

Published: Monday, Feb. 13 2012 3:40 p.m. MST

President Barack Obama submitted his budget today, but it was pronounced Dead on Arrival. By long tradition, presidential budgets are often DOA, usually because one branch of Congress is controlled by the other party.

But in a new twist to the old game, Senate Democrats have discovered that budgets are entirely optional — even with their own guy in the White House. Last month, the Senate marked 1,000 days since they passed a budget, and Majority Leader Harry Reid promptly declared he did not plan one this year again.

Senate Democrats insist they effectively passed a budget, a last minute debt ceiling deal passed last August. “Republican rhetoric aside, Congress did pass a budget. The Republican-controlled House passed it; the Democratic Senate passed it; and the President signed it,” read a statement from the Senate Democrats.

Republican Senator Jeff Sessions fired back, arguing that the August deal lacked the public deliberation necessary to offer certainty and give the voters a chance to weigh competing visions for dealing with a fiscal crisis. “But by refusing to lay out a budget plan for public examination — a fact no one can deny — the Democrat Senate has forfeited the high privilege to lead this chamber,” Sessions wrote. “If Sen. Reid and his members stand by this announcement, it means that the American people will go through yet another year of crisis without Senate Democrats unveiling and standing behind a financial plan for our future.”

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke seems to agree with Sessions. Testifying before the Senate last week, Bernanke was pointedly questioned by Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., about the impact of uncertainty caused by the Senate’s failure to budget. Bernanke declined to get into “parliamentary maneuverings,” but he did assert that “uncertainty about the future of the tax code, government programs” has a negative effect on growth, “because firms like to have certainty [and] like to be able to plan."

In defending Reed Sunday on CNN, White House Chief of Staff Jacob Lew appeared unaware that filibusters cannot be used to block a budget vote. “But we also need to be honest,” Lew said. “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. 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.”

Washington Post fact checker Glenn Kesller awarded Lew four Pinocchios. "Lew is completely wrong when he claims that 60 votes are needed to 'pass a budget in the Senate,'" Kesller wrote. "As he well knows, a budget resolution is one of the few things that are not subject to a filibuster. … You don’t even need 50 votes, just a simple majority. … Senate Democrats may have reasons for failing to pass a budget plan — such as wanting to avoid casting politically inconvenient votes — but a GOP filibuster is not one of them."

Kesller calls this “highly misleading language that blamed Republicans for the failure of the Democratic leadership,” adding that “a two-time budget director really should know better.” In not unsubtle terms, Kesller is saying that Lew is consciously twisting the facts to further the Administration’s efforts to run against “do nothing” Republicans in Congress.

In the Republican’s response to the president’s weekly radio address, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell said, "Sen. Harry Reid's majority hasn't passed a budget in over 1,000 days. Now, the senator is refusing to even consider a budget on the floor. This is an astounding failure of leadership and management of the nation's finances.

In the House of Representative, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan issued a statement calling the President’s budget a “recipe for debt crisis,” and reaffirmed his own commitment to passing a budget this year. Last year under Ryan’s leadership, the House passed a bold and controversial budget bill that would have dealt directly impending entitlement crises.

"As chairman of the House Budget Committee, I will continue to work with my colleagues — from both parties where possible — to advance bold solutions that lift our crushing burden of debt and ensure a future of opportunity, growth and prosperity," Ryan said.

With the Harry Reid Senate AWOL, Ryan looks like the President’s only budgetary debating partner.

Eric Schulzke writes on national politics for the Deseret News. He can be contacted at eschulzke@desnews.com.

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