Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) pledged Tuesday that Republicans would pass a budget every year if they win control of the Senate in November.
The election-year promise could prove difficult to fulfill next year or in 2013 if Republicans take over the upper chamber with only a slim majority.
But Republicans vow they will not let political concerns eclipse the responsibility for passing legislation that sets defense spending and tax levels, even if it might put some of their vulnerable incumbents in danger. “I don’t think the law says, ‘Pass a budget unless it’s hard,’ so I think there’s no question that we would take up our responsibility,” McConnell told reporters. “We would be passing a budget.
“Every year,” he added.
Democrats, however, are skeptical McConnell would be able to stick to his plan if President Obama wins reelection and could use his bully pulpit to criticize Republicans for pushing major spending cuts.
“We’ll put that in our quiver,” a senior Democratic aide said of McConnell’s remarks.
If Republicans take control of the Senate, conservatives in the conference would push for using a special process known as budget reconciliation to reform mandatory spending programs such as Social Security and Medicare. Centrists would be leery of such an aggressive approach.
Reconciliation, as the process is called, would allow Senate Republicans to pass entitlement reform with only 51 votes, instead of the 60 that are usually needed to advance controversial bills.
Republicans on both sides of the Capitol held press conferences Tuesday to criticize Senate Democrats for going 1,000 days without passing a budget.
“I do believe that a party that is incapable now for 1,000 days of producing a budget does not deserve to be the leader of Congress,” said Sen. Jeff Sessions (Ala.), the senior Republican on the Senate Budget Committee.
Sessions said Republicans would not shirk on their promise to pass a budget, even though he acknowledged it could be difficult to muster 51 Republican votes for one.
Budget resolutions are not subject to a filibuster.
“This will be the biggest challenge the Senate would have initially, to produce a budget,” Sessions said, predicting the first 100 days of a new Senate Republican majority.
Meanwhile, as part of their response to the president’s State of the Union address, House Republicans unveiled a Web video in the style of a movie trailer that criticized Senate Democrats for not passing a budget in 1,000 days.
The Senate has failed to pass a budget resolution three times in the past 36 years: 2002, 2010 and 2011. Democrats controlled the chamber all three times.
In 1998, 2004 and 2006, the Senate — controlled by Republicans each year — passed budget resolutions but failed to reach agreement with the House to produce joint resolutions.
Passing budget resolutions in the Senate next Congress, however, could prove difficult if Republicans have a 51- or 52-seat majority.
McConnell would need to persuade Tea Party conservatives such as Sens. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.) to vote for the same levels of spending and taxation as centrists such as Sens. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Scott Brown (R), if he wins reelection in liberal Massachusetts.
“Hopefully you could have bipartisan support for it, but if not you’d have to have virtually every Republican sign on to it,” said Sessions. “It would be consensus, a budget unanimously agreed upon.”
He said Senate Republicans should work with House Republicans to create a reconciliation package to reform government programs.
Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), who offered a Senate Republican budget plan last year, said Republicans must pass a budget every year if they oust Democrats from the majority.
“I think it’s important to do that. It’s one of the fundamental responsibilities of the government … to lay out a blueprint for our spending, our revenue, the size of our revenues, how we’re going to get that under control,” he said. “Whoever is in the majority ought to take up a budget — that’s part of governing.”
Senate Democrats say the criticism is unfair because Congress passed spending caps for 2012 and 2013 when it forged a deal to raise the debt limit.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) noted that 76 senators voted for the spending caps set in August, which also set up a sequestration process to cut $1.2 trillion in spending beginning in 2013.
Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) argued Tuesday that the Budget Control Act passed in August had the effect of a budget resolution.
“When our colleagues come out here and say we have not passed a budget in 1,000 days … wow,” Conrad exclaimed from the Senate floor. “Could they have really missed … the consideration of the Budget Control Act? Did they really miss all of that, or are they saying something they know not to be true?”
Stu Nagurka, a spokesman for the Senate Budget Committee, said last year’s Budget Control Act “was stronger than a traditional budget resolution in several ways” and noted that since 1998, the Senate and House have agreed on joint budget resolutions in only two election years, 2000 and 2008.