Hats off to the Senate parliamentarian, who apparently has rebuffed the Democratic leadership’s latest excuse for failing to bring a budget to the floor—something the Senate hasn’t done for nearly three years.
Since February, Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D–NV) and his lieutenants have claimed the Budget Control Act (BCA)—spawn of last year’s debt ceiling agreement—constitutes a budget resolution for fiscal year 2013. “We do not need to bring a budget to the floor this year,” Reid contended, citing the BCA’s $1.047 trillion ceiling on annually appropriated spending for fiscal year 2013. “It’s done. We don’t need to do it.”
Well, not so fast, Mr. Leader. While Reid made this laughable argument, Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D–ND) was asking Parliamentarian Elizabeth C. MacDonough for a ruling on the matter. According to an account by Politico, the Senate leaders lost.
MacDonough “has decided that last summer’s deal on the debt ceiling and spending caps does not preclude the Senate from taking up other budget resolutions this year,” Politico says. “Based on Senate precedent, if the Budget Committee has not produced a budget resolution by April 1, then any plan offered in the Senate is automatically put on the Senate calendar.”
In other words, the parliamentarian has implicitly concluded the BCA does not satisfy the Budget Committee’s obligation to send a budget resolution to the floor. That means other budgets—such as those introduced by Senators Rand Paul (R–KY), Pat Toomey (R–PA), and others—could be brought up for votes. So could the House-passed budget and even the President’s budget, which was defeated unanimously in the Senate last year and in the House last week. Of course, Reid could prevent this if he chose to stiff-arm his colleagues and block consideration.
The last time the Senate passed a budget resolution—S. Con. Res. 13, which laid the groundwork for ramming through Obamacare—was April 29, 2009. (For those keeping track, that is 1,072 days; or two years, 11 months, and seven days; or two years and 342 days.) Although the House has adopted budgets the past two years, the Senate’s failure prevents Congress from reaching a bicameral agreement that sets enforceable spending limits and procedures for much-needed entitlement reforms. As a result, Congress has stumbled along with ad hoc procedures (e.g., the debt ceiling deal) that have made a mockery of budgeting.
The BCA was never more than a poor substitute for a budget resolution—a rushed, eleventh-hour “solution” to a manufactured debt ceiling crisis. Its cap on discretionary budget authority affects only about one-third of total spending, and it is riddled with deliberate loopholes that make the limit all but meaningless. In addition, the BCA offers no sense of budgeting priorities as a budget resolution does, no recommendations for entitlement reforms, no overall direction for major spending and tax policies.
Apart from that, the failure of the BCA-created “super committee” to identify at least $1.2 trillion in additional deficit reduction measures has triggered a crude enforcement procedure called sequestration, which threatens devastating cuts in defense spending starting in January. Although the House budget proposes a mechanism for rewriting the sequestration, the Senate’s neglect of budgeting ignores it—adding to a looming budgetary train wreck at year’s end, when other major tax and spending decisions must be made as well.
With all this at stake, MacDonough’s ruling (intentionally or not) confirms a point that was already clear: The Senate leadership has abdicated one of its most fundamental governing responsibilities—budgeting—and the BCA offers no absolution.