Conrad ready to present Dems' budget as soon as next week

Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) said Wednesday afternoon that Democrats have reached an agreement on a budget plan and plan to unveil it as soon as next week.

“We’ve reached an agreement after weeks of work,” Conrad told The Hill. “I think it’s big.”

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Conrad said it would reduce the deficit by more than $4 trillion over the next 10 years.

“I’m not going to go into any of the details until I have a chance to lay out the whole thing for people but it’s a very significant debt reduction plan,” he said. “It’s actually somewhat bigger than the fiscal commission.”

Conrad’s announcement ends a long, tense wait for the Democratic budget plan that had been tied up by an intra-party dispute between liberals and centrists on the budget panel.

The imminent introduction of a Senate Democratic budget plan shows that the party is unifying in preparation of a showdown with Republicans over the national debt limit.

The National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform crafted a proposal in December that would slash the deficit by $4.15 trillion from 2012 to 2020.

Conrad declined to reveal any additional details until he has a chance to present the budget plan to the rest of the Senate Democratic conference.

Senate Democratic leaders are debating whether to cancel the Fourth of July recess to focus on debt-limit negotiations.

If the Senate is in session next week, Conrad said he could release it publicly as soon as next week.

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Senate Democrats said they were close to producing a budget plan in May but said they wanted to wait for the outcome of debt-limit talks led by Vice President Biden.

The Biden talks came to an end last week when House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) abruptly withdrew from the talks.

Conrad also wanted to give time to the Senate’s Gang of Six to put together a legislative package to implement the recommendations of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform.

Those talks stalled last month when Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), the conservative leader of the group, pulled out after a dispute over cuts to Medicare.

During this time, Conrad worked on a Senate Democratic budget proposal on a parallel track.

His work was slowed by a disagreement within his committee between Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.), an outspoken liberal, and centrists such as Sen. Bill Nelson (Fla.), who faces a tough race for re-election in Florida next year.

Sanders insisted the budget resolution should call for higher tax revenues to pay for at least 50 percent of the deficit reduction goal. Sanders also pushed for a surtax on millionaires.

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“We’ve largely reached agreement,” Conrad said Wednesday. “It will take a little while to get it all written up and prepared for release. I don’t want to do it tomorrow because I don’t think we have enough time to do it right in terms of its release but we’ll be ready to go next week if we’re in session or the week after that.”

The introduction of a Senate Democratic budget will address a persistent criticism from Republicans in recent weeks.

Freshmen Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) on Tuesday protested the lack of a Democratic budget plan by objecting to all routine requests to proceed with Senate business.

Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) has taken to the Senate floor almost daily over the last few weeks to rail about the missing Democratic budget.

“Seven hundred and ninety is the number of days it's been since the Senate has passed a budget,” Senate Republican Policy Committee Chairman John Thune (S.D.) said Tuesday, repeating what has become a Republican mantra.

“[Over] the 790 days since the Senate Democrats have passed a budget, the debt has actually gone up $3.2 trillion. So we have a debt and a spending problem in Washington, D.C., not a revenue problem,” he said.