Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-ND) said Sunday that he counseled President Obama not to champion the Bowles-Simpson fiscal commission recommendations because that would have “automatically” turned House Republicans against them.
On a Fox News Sunday panel, freshman Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI), a member of the Budget Committee, said the president “totally ignored” the work of Bowles-Simpson and showed “no leadership” on the matter.
“I don’t think that’s fair,” Conrad responded. “Look, he asked me for my advice. I told him look, ‘If you embrace this totality of Bowles-Simpson, what will happen is Republicans in the House will automatically be against it. So you need to make the case for why it’s necessary, but you need those of us in Congress to work it out.’”
Guest host Brit Hume, the managing editor of Fox News, repeatedly pressed Conrad on why Democrats haven’t passed a long-term budget vision of their own like the GOP’s plan by Paul Ryan. Hume’s questioning echoed a common line of attack from Republicans, who accuse Democrats of failing to pass a budget for three years.
“I feel good about retiring, that’s for sure,” Conrad quipped.
“This notion that we’ve not had a budget for three years is just wrong. Last year we passed the Budget Control Act,” he explained, referring to the bipartisan August debt limit deal that establishes spending levels for the next decade. “And if you read the Budget Control Act it makes very clear that it stands in place of a budget resolution. In many ways it is stronger than a budget resolution.”
The squabbling between the two senators underscores how the GOP hopes to frame the budget battles ahead of the election. The Republican line is that Democrats have failed to coalesce around a vision that addresses the nation’s long-term woes while Republicans have at least put their cards on the table in the budget plan by Rep. Paul Ryan.
Johnson dismissed the BCA as inadequate and charged that Democrats were afraid to bring a budget resolution that reflects their views to the floor. He added that by contrast, the Ryan budget has broad GOP support in the Senate.
“Absolutely. I think most Republicans in the Senate would [support it]. And we will probably try to force a vote on that.” He conceded that it’ll “probably not” pass the Democratic-led chamber.
Democrats have said they support the balanced approach of Bowles-Simpson, which includes deep spending cuts as well as new revenues to reduce the deficit. Obama has offered a budget vision of his own, but Conrad said congressional Dems are more focused on getting results and don’t believe a resolution broader than the BCA can be agreed to by both sides until after the election.
He said the debt limit law is “stronger, because a budget resolution is purely a congressional document. Never goes to the president for signature. The Budget Control Act is law, and it not only sets a limit for this year and next, it sets spending limits for 10 years.”
Beneath the budget fight are deep disagreements between the two sides over critical issues like taxes and the future of Medicare, which Obama and conservative Republicans want to make the defining issue of the presidential election in November.
Sahil Kapur is a congressional reporter for TPM. He previously covered politics and public policy for numerous publications including The Guardian and The Huffington Post. He can be reached at sahil [at] talkingpointsmemo.com.