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179 trips to the moon: House pressures Senate to create budget for first time in 1,365 days

Published: Wednesday, Aug. 5 2015 7:06 a.m. MDT

House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio leaves a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2013 where he discussed the debt limit. (Associated Press) House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio leaves a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2013 where he discussed the debt limit. (Associated Press)

House Republicans have pulled Congressional budgets into the news, using Wednesday's debt limit vote and statements like, "You could take 179 round trips to the moon in the time since Senate Dems last passed a budget" in order to pressure the Senate into putting together a spending plan.

The House's debt limit bill, approved 285-144 on Wednesday, is written to temporarily suspend the $16.4 trillion cap on federal borrowing until May 18, pushing back the debate over raising the debt ceiling until later in the year. The bill also holds the salaries of House or Senate members if the chambers fail to pass a budget, a move that critics say violates the 27th Amendment.

The Senate's failure to pass a budget has been a point of contention between the two chambers, with Republicans keeping a running tally of how long it has been (1,365 days, according to House Majority Leader Eric Cantor) and Democrats arguing that the Senate could adopt appropriation bills and authorization policies in place of a budget.

"In the Senate, proposing a budget gives Republicans an opportunity to attach amendments that would put political pressure on moderate and conservative Democrats, many of whom already have an eye on their re-election races in 2014," a Washington Post article said Tuesday. "By not introducing a budget, Democrats can keep their names off plans that detail high spending and high deficits. Meanwhile, they can attack House Republicans for their controversial budget plans. (See Ryan, Paul.) That was an especially attractive option for Democrats in the election years of 2010 and 2012."

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said the Senate will pass the House debt limit proposal without changes, and that the Senate will approve a budget in accordance with the House bill. The White House has also said it will not block the legislation.

"We believe strongly that this is a way forward," Reid told Politico. "This is clearly a victory for the president."

"This was a major victory for the president," Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., told The New York Times. "Republicans now have lost twice out on fiscal issues in the last month: first the fiscal cliff and now this."

However, in the political budget game, it remains to be seen who will emerge as a winner from this latest move.

Keith Hennessey, who served as the director of the National Economic Council for President George W. Bush, wrote that while the short-term policy benefits of the Senate passing a budget are minimal, the budget should help clarify the broader fiscal policy debate.

"Senate Budget Committee Chair Patty Murray and Leader Reid will have their hands full because Democrats are far from united on these big questions that they must now answer:

Do you support the president's proposed level of taxes on top of the recently enacted tax increases?

What is your policy on the appropriations sequester?

Do you support any slowing of the growth of the major old-age entitlement programs?

What deficits and debt do you propose for the next 5-10 years?"

The bill also puts the next debt limit deadline after the sequester is triggered, the continuing resolution expires and the budget resolution deadlines hit, therefore reordering the 2013 fiscal debates in a way that is advantageous to spending cutters, Hennessey said.

Schumer and Murray said the Senate budget will use a "balanced approach" to overhaul the tax code and raise "significant revenue." The Senate budget will likely collide with the goals of House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., who is reportedly putting together a budget that balances within a decade, as well as those of Rep. Dave Camp, R-Mich., who is seeking "revenue-neutral" tax reform.

Professor Sean Kelly told Bloomberg Businessweek in early January that after Congress banned earmarks in 2010, the appropriations process "melted down," because the ban provided less incentive for politicians to serve on appropriations committees. This, therefore, led to committees filled with more partisans and fewer pragmatists, Kelly said.

"There's a human element in lawmaking that is real," Tom Cole, R-Okla., said. Without earmarks, "You're removing all incentive for people to vote for things that are tough."

An economics21.org editorial published Wednesday said the debt limit crisis is actually a budget process crisis, and that despite suggestions to the contrary, budgets really do matter.

"One need only read Paul Krugman's insistence that the deficit problem has been solved to understand how critically important this effort really is. It is popular to criticize Chairman Ryan and the House leadership for failing to provide a 'balanced' solution to our fiscal problems, but at least they have the courage to acknowledge that a problem exists," the editorial said. "Those who deny the scale of the current U.S. fiscal crisis must either be innumerate, in denial about the damaging impact of debt overhang on economic growth, or attempting to cultivate ignorance in the belief that an honest assessment of the fact would lead to unwelcome policy changes. A budget resolution forces all parties to put their cards on the table and moves the debate form platitudes about 'balance' to the unpleasant arithmetic the Senate's attempted to avoid for nearly four years."

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