Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) confirmed Thursday that she will seek the chairmanship of the Senate Budget Committee next year but told The Hill that she cannot commit to doing a budget.
This opens up the possibility that Senate Democrats will avoiding passing a budget resolution for the fourth year in a row.
This past year, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said a budget was not necessary because the top-line spending number for appropriations was set in the August 2011 debt-ceiling deal.
Murray said that an agreement to avoid the "fiscal cliff," the looming $600 billion in tax increases and spending cuts set to strike in January, could preclude having to pass a Senate budget next year.
“I am committed to working with our committee and with our Congress to put a budget in place but there are a lot of questions in front of us: What happens in the next two weeks, six weeks, year? Does the White House and the leadership come together on some solution to the budget that we have right now that precludes a budget being written next year?” she said. “I have no idea.”
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Murray was expected to go for the Budget Committee slot, where she would replace retiring Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.). The four-term senator is coming off a successful run at the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, where she helped the party net two Senate seats in a cycle that was supposed to be tough for them.
Senate Budget Committee ranking member Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) said that Murray is in a “tough spot.” He said that this past year, Conrad wanted to mark up a budget resolution but was stymied by Reid.
“She is a good person to work with. She is an experienced, capable senator,” Sessions said.
But he said, Murray will quickly find herself hemmed in by the majority leader, Sessions predicted.
“There’s a great danger, not just for the Budget Committee but for the whole Senate when we don’t follow regular order with open debate,” Sessions said. “It is very distressing to me that Sen. Reid has, for political reasons, not allowed Senate Democrats to be on record for anything.”
“They don’t need a single Republican vote to pass a budget,” he said.
Unlike most bills, the budget resolution cannot be filibustered on the floor and it takes only 51 votes to pass. Democrats will control 55 seats next year.
Sessions said he is very worried that on the fiscal cliff, leaders will jam the Senate around Christmastime with a last-minute compromise that is not open to amendment. He urged Murray to commit to fighting for a more open fiscal process that precludes backroom deals.
Sessions said in a subsequent statement that the Budget Committee and Senate are legally obligated to do a budget resolution and that duty should not be shirked.
Murray, a longtime appropriator and champion of military and veterans issues as well as entitlement programs, said that her approach to the position will be to make sure targeted investments that help economic growth are not sacrificed.
“As a nation we have to look at our budget in a very broad vision, both in terms of our debt and deficit, which is absolutely critical, and how we manage that and put together a budget to deal with that, but we can’t exclude the conversation and it is important to include the conversation about how we make the investments and priorities within that budget to allow our country to be prosperous in the future,” she said.
— This story was last updated at 1:29 p.m.