By Erik Wasson
Senate Democrats have bowed to GOP demands to do a budget resolution for the first time in four years, but how detailed the plan will be and whether it moves through the regular committee process by the legal deadline remain open questions.
The Democratic shift comes after Republicans announced last week that they will move a three-month debt-ceiling increase this week and attach a requirement that lawmakers have their pay withheld if a budget is not passed.
Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) announced on Sunday’s "Meet the Press" that Democrats will do a budget resolution this year.
“I’ve talked to Leader Reid. I’ve talked to Budget Chair Murray. We’re going to do a budget this year and it’s going to have revenues in it and our Republican colleagues better get used to that fact,” he said, making reference to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray (D-Wash.).
Murray declined to talk about doing a budget when asked by reporters Monday.
Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee, said he was "gratified" Democrats are planning a budget.
"However, we have heard similar promises before. If they intend to follow the law then they will need to act in accordance with the legal deadline to approve a budget in committee by April 1st," Sessions said. "The budget process is open and deliberative — the process the American people deserve — and we expect the Majority to produce a budget resolution in committee for public review, amendment and debate."
Michael Steel, a spokesman for Speaker John Boehner, called Schumer's announcement "good news, if true."
"Senate Democrats' failure to produce a budget for four years has been shameful," said Steel. "Every American family and small business has a budget and it is time for Senate Democrats like Sen. Schumer to do their job."
Schumer said the budget process will be used to “lift” tax reform, an allusion to using the budget reconciliation process to avoid filibusters on a rewrite of the tax code.
If both the House and Senate pass budgets, a resolution reconciling them, which faces only a simple majority threshold in the Senate, can be used to enact sweeping deficit-cutting legislation.
The No. 3 Senate Democrat said the budget is “going to be a great opportunity for us. Because in our budget that we will pass, we will lift tax reform, which many of my Republican colleagues liked, but it's going to include revenues.”
Schumer said that Democrats had secretly planned to do a budget his year, since the top-line budget numbers from the August 2011 debt-ceiling deal are no longer formally in effect.
In recent months, however, Murray has said Democrats are still trying to determine whether the normal budget resolution process is the way to go.
Republicans say there is no guarantee that Murray will move a budget through committee, a tough feat that entails getting fiscal hawks like Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) and liberals like Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) on the same page.
They say it is also not clear how detailed the budget will be, and whether it will simply call for new revenue through tax reform without specifying which tax loopholes to close.
"If Senate Democrats actually intend to comply with the law this year and do their first budget since 2009, then Chairman Murray will need to schedule activity to meet the Budget Committee's April 1st legal deadline to approve a plan,” said Stephen Miller, spokesman for Senate Budget Committee Republicans.
“The budget will also need to be 10 years, satisfy all the legal requirements and lay out a long-term solution,” he said.
The GOP is eager for a full committee markup and full floor consideration. In past years, the minority party has sought a “vote-a-rama” that would allow it to offer amendments meant to force vulnerable Democrats into tough votes.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's (R-Ky.) office is already chomping at the bit to cast Democrats as a party obsessed with raising taxes. McConnell has said new taxes should be off the table following the New Year’s Eve fiscal-cliff deal that will bring in $630 billion in new revenue.
“After nearly four years of avoiding their responsibility, at least one member of the Senate Democrat leadership is finally committing to do their job. But I don't think anyone's shocked that Democrats simply see it as another way to try and raise taxes on the American people and small businesses,” McConnell spokesman Don Stewart said.
— Updated at 12:30 p.m.