Monday marks 100 days since the Senate passed a budget amid bipartisan praise of the open process. But initial Republican eagerness to work on a budget has given way to the obstructionism that’s defined the Senate minority under Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY).
Over the past hundred days, Republicans have blocked 15 separate attempts to go to a budget conference with the House of Representatives. Now that the House and Senate have passed their own versions, each is supposed to appoint representatives to a committee that reconciles them into one bill that can be passed by each body and signed by the president.
The handful of Republicans who are blocking a conference on the 2014 budget cite a variety of reasons, including fears that the conference agreement would include a deal preventing another debt ceiling crisis. Sens. Rand Paul (R-KY), Ted Cruz (R-TX), Mike Lee (R-UT), and Marco Rubio (R-FL) have insisted that the conferees be barred from addressing the debt ceiling, which needs to be increased by this fall to avoid a catastrophic default on U.S. obligations. McConnell, who has praised the use of the debt ceiling as a pressure point for extracting spending cuts despite the tactic’s negative impact on the nation’s credit rating, is one of many prominent Republicans who demanded “regular order” on the budget. In January, he called for a speedy budget conference because “that’s how things are supposed to work around here.”
Yet McConnell has joined the Cruz/Paul/Rubio wing of his caucus in blocking progress on the budget over the past 100 days. Spokespeople for the Republican Senate leader did not respond to multiple requests for comment on Monday, but by joining with members like Paul he’s wrapped his arms around the obstructionists’ spin. According to a sign Paul’s staff whipped up for a May floor speech, they’re “Preventing A Back Room Deal To Raise The Debt Limit” and counting the days without budget conferees as a mounting victory.
In contrast with their leadership, Sens. John McCain (R-AZ), Susan Collins (R-ME), and Lamar Alexander (R-TN) have criticized their colleagues for blocking the move to conference. Their offices also did not respond to ThinkProgress calls and emails Monday, but each has publicly noted that past griping about the majority’s treatment of budgeting makes the GOP’s present position look foolish.
If the Senate were to appoint conferees, the two chambers’ budgets would still be very difficult to reconcile because they are so far apart.
But given the nature of the Senate’s budget, the conference process might provide the sort of reset on fiscal policy that falling deficits, threadbare government services, and stubbornly high unemployment demand. The Senate’s budget includes $1.85 trillion in deficit reduction, from a combination of cuts and taxes, to replace the $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction currently coming from the haphazard all-cuts policy known as sequestration. It focuses on new revenues, takes sequestration’s strain off the non-defense discretionary government services that have borne the brunt of deficit reduction efforts to date, and finds room for $100 billion in investments in America’s economic future.