Households make budgets. So do businesses and nonprofits. There was also a time when Congress made them, but those days are long gone — 1,086 days gone, to be precise. That’s the last time Democrats, who have controlled one or both houses of Congress this whole time, passed a budget resolution through either the House or the Senate.
On April 15, 2010, both houses failed to meet the statutory deadline for passing a budget for the first time ever. Although the Senate Budget Committee would later pass a plan out of committee, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., blocked it from the floor, going so far as to prevent even a debate about the budget.
Asked to explain this bicameral failure in the face of trillion-dollar deficits, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said, “It’s difficult to pass budgets in election years.” Turns out, it is also difficult to get re-elected when you don’t pass budgets. Later that same year, House Democrats lost 63 seats.
Senate Democrats lost six seats in 2010 but managed to retain control of the upper chamber. Surely, in the nonelection year of 2011 they would bring a budget to the floor, right? Wrong. Reid told reporters at the time, “There’s no need to have a Democratic budget,” adding, “It would be foolish for us to do a budget at this stage.” In July 2011, Reid’s assistant leader, Dick Durbin, D-Ill., went so far as to claim on national television that Republican filibusters prevented a budget from passing. He must have known he was fibbing — under Senate rules, budget resolutions can pass with a simple majority.
In fact, Democrats just wanted to focus on attacking the “Path to Prosperity” budget proposed by House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis. Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said, “To put other budgets out there is not the point.” As Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner would later say, “We don’t have a definitive solution … We just don’t like yours.”
Fast forward to this past Monday, when Senate Budget Chairman Kent Conrad, D-N.D., announced he would attempt to pass a Democratic budget out of his committee for the first time since 2009. Conrad even held a press conference Tuesday during which he released a budget document nearly identical to the Bowles-Simpson deficit reduction plan that President Obama rejected in 2010.
But Reid quickly moved to quash this plan, and Conrad, who is retiring after this year, backed off at the eleventh hour. “This is the wrong time to vote in committee; this is the wrong time to vote on the floor,” Conrad told reporters late yesterday afternoon.
It is no coincidence that the Democrats’ failure to pass a budget began immediately after Obamacare became law. In order to hide its $1.7 trillion price tag and $500 billion in tax increases through 2022, Democrats had already exhausted every last budgeting gimmick. As a result, they had no further tricks up their sleeve to pay for the rest of their spending priorities without voting on the massive tax increases that Conrad’s new budget contained — $2.6 trillion, and not just on the rich.
Put yourself in the shoes of the half-dozen vulnerable Democratic senators who are up for re-election this year. Would you want to vote for that?
That is why Reid forced Conrad to pull his budget, even knowing that such a move would create an embarrassing spectacle. To paraphrase another politician, “We’re running for office, for Pete’s sake!”