Dueling Budgets and a Window for a Grand Bargain

Beyond the ideological fracas is the last best chance for a grand bargain this summer.

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Kevin Lamarque / Reuters

Senator Patty Murray

Budgets are usually ideological documents, used more for elections in recent years than for actual legislating. This week, both the House Republicans and Senate Democrats are expected to introduce budgets. While neither is expected to pass the other chamber and both present inherent risks to their own parties, this year, they may actually matter.

Senate Democrats, led by Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray, this week will unveil their first budget in four years. There are a lot of reasons why Senate Dems have eschewed their constitutional duty: fears that Republicans will use reconciliation — a budget process that requires only a 51-vote threshold — to strip Obamacare or the financial-reregulation bill, or use amendments to embarrass Democrats on any number of issues. But perhaps the biggest reason was to protect vulnerable Democrats through two tough electoral cycles where Dems risked losing the Senate.

In 2014, Democrats still face an uphill battle: 21 Democratic seats are up, seven of them in states won by Mitt Romney in 2012. Murray, who last cycle headed up the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which is responsible for electing Democrats to the Senate, is hyperaware of the dangers of forcing her colleagues to support an ideological document too far to the left. To that end, she’s endeavored to craft a moderate budget plan that envisions $1 trillion in new savings in addition to $1 trillion in new revenue over the next decade. The problem is: it fails to balance the budget even in the longest projections decades down the road, opening up Democrats to criticism that they aren’t serious about tackling deficits. And $1 trillion in revenue is a tough vote for any of those red-state Democrats.

In a dig at Murray, one of the first things House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan did on Tuesday at the rollout of his budget was to invite President Obama and the Democrats to join Republicans in “balancing the budget.” Ryan’s plan does so in a drastic manner, slicing $4.6 trillion in spending over the next decade by, among other things, eliminating Obamacare and turning Medicare into a voucher system. The new budget doesn’t differ much from previous budgets Ryan has produced for the past six years, and so far Republicans haven’t paid a price at the polls for voting annually to do away with one of the most popular government programs, Medicare. But that risk remains, especially as surveys increasingly show public support to solve budget shortfalls using a mix of savings and revenue, as suggested by Democrats.

Despite the fact that neither bill is expect to pass the other chamber, the passage of both budgets this year opens the door to reconciliation. Essentially this process entails Murray, Ryan and other budget experts getting together and passing a compromise budget document: no small challenge given the their vast differences, but the key to this is they can pick and choose areas of agreement rather than tackling everything. The product is deemed “privileged” in both chambers, making it filibuster-proof. In years past, big pieces of legislation have been loaded on the back of reconciliation such as the last deficit reduction acts of 1984 and 1993, the Bush tax cuts and parts of Obamacare.

This time around, Obama has again been calling for a grand bargain, courting Republican and Democratic members alike in three separate trips to the Hill this week. “I still believe that compromise is possible,” Obama said on Saturday in his weekly radio address. “I still believe we can come together to do big things. And I know there are leaders on the other side who share that belief.” There is a window for such a deal this summer when the debt ceiling comes up along with legislation for funding the federal government for the next fiscal year, which starts on Sept. 1. For the past two rounds — the sequester and the continuing resolution to fund the government from March 27 to Sept. 1 — House Republicans have held their fire so as to approach the summer fight on strong footing. For hints of what that deal might resemble, don’t look at Ryan’s or Murray’s budgets but the President’s long-overdue budget expected out later this month. That will most likely form the basis of whatever bargain there is to be had.

After too many failed attempts and false starts, so much distrust and backstabbing, is a grand bargain still possible? With the roadblock of Obama’s re-election out of the way and the next election more than 18 months away, this is the last best window for many years to come.

36 comments
MichaelJohnson
MichaelJohnson

the koch brothers, i mean, ryan proves that old adage about insanity, which is doing the same thing repeatedly and hoping for different results.  he's retreading ideas that lost the presidential election and hoping that they get accepted this time. 

curt3rd
curt3rd

Senate Democrats, led by Budget Committee Chair Patty Murray, this week will unveil their first budget in four years. There are a lot of reasons why Senate Dems have eschewed their constitutional duty

They have not produced a budget in four years which is required by law and what they are elected for just to protect the president and their votes.

gysgt213
gysgt213

"The problem is: it fails to balance the budget even in the longest projections decades down the road, opening up Democrats to criticism that they aren’t serious about tackling deficits."  

Actually this is not a problem.  We can run deficits forever.

shepherdwong
shepherdwong

"Ryan’s plan does so in a drastic manner, slicing $4.6 trillion in spending over the next decade by, amongst other things, eliminating Obamacare and turning Medicare into a voucher system."

The idea that Ryan's plan balances the budget assumes fictional numbers are real and requires simply taking Ryan's word for them. That's not journalism.

PaulDirks
PaulDirks

Ryan and other budget experts...

As long as JNS is willing to refer to Ryan as a "budget expert" any possible evaluation of his latest document is impossible. Ryan's sole talent is convincing people who should know better that he knows what he's talking about. 

grape_crush
grape_crush

> ...and so far Republicans haven’t paid a price at the polls for voting annually to do away with one of the most popular government programs, Medicare.

Absolutely. Just ask President Romney. Or his Veep.


sacredh
sacredh

"For hints of what that deal might resemble, don’t look at Ryan or Murray’s budgets but the President’s long overdue budget expected out later this month. That will most likely form the basis of whatever bargain is to be had."

This is another problem for Ryan and his hopes for a 2016 run. Even Mitt selecting him as his VP candidate wasn't enough for the people of his home state to deliver Wisconsin to the republicans. He doesn't appeal to his own home state. He's popular in his district, not the state as a whole. If Ryan's budget plan is marginalized and the President's budget is going to be the framework, Ryan would look even more like a not-ready-for-prime-time player.

bobell
bobell

One correction, Jay,  There is no constitutional requirement for a budget.  Money is drawn from the Treasury by appropriation according to law.  That's it. All the rest of the process is just a bunch of statutes enacted by Congress to govern the procedures.  I'm sure you've noticed that, however well or poorly, the federal government has been going along for the past four years with no budget enactments.  Nice to have?  Okay. Constitutionally required.  No way.

TyPollard
TyPollard

If a grand bargain is reached will the conventional wisdom in the Beltway have a wrongasm.

sacredh
sacredh

Thanks for the article JNS. I'm at a loss to understand Ryan's inclusion of the voucher system for medicare though. Ryan is making all of the sounds of running for president in 2016 and one of his biggest hopes has to be the senior citizen vote. I don't see how this inclusion does anything but hurt his chances. He could kiss Florida goodbye right from the start if he insists on turning medicare into a voucher system. His path to the White House has to include Florida.

BobJan
BobJan

@curt3rd where did you hear or learn this nonsense you're talking about? Fox Comedy, Beck Comedy or Rush Comedy? which one is it?

bobell
bobell

@curt3rd I guess I have to say it again: Neither house of Congress has any constitutional duty to produce a budget. The budget is an artifact of a statutory process created by acts of Congress.  Congress is quite capable of appropriating money for the conduct of government without ever adopting a budget.

Sue_N
Sue_N

@gysgt213 Darth Cheney: "Deficits don't matter."

At least not when there's a Republican in the White House …

BobJan
BobJan

@PaulDirks the first step is for the American people to take away the health insurance for the Congress. 

sacredh
sacredh

Ryan is considered a budget expert within his own party because his budgets are wish lists for the conservative movement.

grape_crush
grape_crush

"Now, I’m aware that the facts about our dwindling deficit are unwelcome in many quarters. Fiscal fearmongering is a major industry inside the Beltway, especially among those looking for excuses to do what they really want, namely dismantle Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. People whose careers are heavily invested in the deficit-scold industry don’t want to let evidence undermine their scare tactics; as the deficit dwindles, we’re sure to encounter a blizzard of bogus numbers purporting to show that we’re still in some kind of fiscal crisis."

JNSmall
JNSmall moderator

@sacredh He argues that in the long run it saves Medicare, that the program can't survive in its current form. And that no one under 56 today would be effected. He flirted with making changes that would effect relatively younger folks -- say 45 and up -- in this budget but that trial ballon got shot down with a bazooka. He'll say it may be foolhardy, but at least he's being honest.

JNS

PerryWhite1
PerryWhite1

@sacredh And he uses buzzwords like "baseline." He's what a dumb person thinks a budget expert sounds like.

bobell
bobell

@TyPollard You want a bargain? I have this large bridge you can buy for a mere hundred bucks, payable now in cash.  Whaddaya say?

sacredh
sacredh

Thanks for the response JNS, but being honest isn't necessarily being smart. Ryan would need everything to break his way to have even a shot at the White House. He won't take the women's vote. He isn't going to take the Hispanic vote or get more than single digit black votes. He'd have to take a huge majority of the elderly white vote to even be in the running. He doesn't appeal to the younger voters either. The elderly vote would have to be his bread, butter, steak and dessert. Turning Mediacre into a voucher program plays to people he already appeals to. He's shooting himself in the foot before he even starts the race.

sacredh
sacredh

Say that the bridge threatened him?

outsider
outsider

@sacredh 


Not to mention the fact that the deficit is a GOP talking point, and the real issue ought to be jobs. Stimulus spending in order to pay down the debt and deficit later, with the increased economic activity that is achieved with  lower unemployment. 

The deficit is declining - and debt can be helped when more people are paying into it. But the GOP wants no part of it. 

Ryan is just pushing the same priority that the GOP has been pursuing since the 30's. Eliminating the social safety net. 


sacredh
sacredh

fhmadvocat, I think Ryan is intelligent but not politically savvy. For him to have a real chance he has to appeal to demographics that he doesn't currently look all that good to. He's not doing that. He's playing to a base he already has and alienating the people he needs to get into his camp. As fast as the demographics of the country are changing, he needs to broaden his appeal and he isn't it. He seems to be stuck in primary campaign mode. I'm worried about the deficit too and I think programs are going to have to be scaled back, taxes raised, loopholes closed, the military scaled back and probably the retirement age raised by a year or two.

By him taking any tax increases off the table, he's shutting the door on his own chances. The public is in favor of raising taxes and closing loopholes. I don't think the people can be persuaded to cut the deficit by cutting programs alone. It's either going for shared sacrifice or they won't buy cuts to the things they depend on.



fhmadvocat
fhmadvocat

Sacredh,

While I don't think Paul Ryan has much of a chance at the White House, I think Ryan is much smarter than you think.  There are a number of people, who are not political, but who are concerned about our debt.  They look at Republicans and Democrats as not doing much to address the problem.  In Paul Ryan, you have someone attempting to address the problem.  I happen to admire the fact that Ryan is attempting to address the problem.  My issue is I think his voucher plan is a very, very bad idea.  However, that is better than burying one's head in the sand and pretending there is no problem.

Don't forget less than 60% of Americans vote in Presidential elections.  A Republican only has to appeal to a small percentage of the other 40% in order to win the White House.

sacredh
sacredh

bobell, Ryan might do very well in the primary but he's another win for the democrats in the general election. He might even do better than Mitt did in the primary season because he wouldn't have to keep placating the base like Mitt did.

bobell
bobell

@sacredh He's shooting himself in the foot before he even starts the race.

Good. (Although perhaps it would be best if he got the GOP nod and then Romneyed the general election.)