Senate Dems' budget in limbo

Senate Dems' budget in limbo

Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) says he has no immediate plans to mark up a budget, as members of his committee continue to disagree over spending cuts and tax increases.

Conrad said he has additional meetings scheduled with his colleagues Tuesday afternoon and will make an announcement in the coming days on a possible markup. 

“I’ll say something later — not today, probably,” Conrad said. “There are a lot of conversations under way.”

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Conrad responded to strong criticism from liberals on the Budget Committee last week by presenting a budget plan to colleagues with a 50-50 mix of spending cuts and tax increases.

That represented a move to the left from President Obama's budget plan, which suggested a three-to-one ratio of spending cuts to tax increases. 

Conrad can't afford a single defection on the Budget panel to win a majority vote, which is made up of 12 Democrats and 11 Republicans. 

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max BaucusMax Sieben BaucusJudge boots Green Party from Montana ballot in boost to Tester Clients’ Cohen ties become PR liability Green Party puts Dem seat at risk in Montana MORE (D-Mont.) cast doubt on whether Conrad's effort will succeed.

"I don't know there is going to be a Conrad budget," Baucus said. 

One Democratic senator told The Hill that the 50-50 ratio in Conrad's proposal is causing "heartburn" among Democrats on the panel, as is the way the plan pays for the Medicare "doc fix."

That same senator also said Conrad might be "slow walking" the budget to buy time for the bipartisan Gang of Six budget talks, which have been ongoing for months.


Sen. Saxby ChamblissClarence (Saxby) Saxby ChamblissLobbying World Former GOP senator: Let Dems engage on healthcare bill OPINION: Left-wing politics will be the demise of the Democratic Party MORE (R-Ga.), a member of the Gang of Six, said Tuesday the group is meeting daily but has no deadline for completing its talks.


Conrad said there are many issues that need to be resolved in the broad document that covers discretionary entitlement spending levels and tax policy.

A complicating factor is the parallel negotiations between Vice President Joe BidenJoseph (Joe) Robinette BidenBernie Sanders socialism moves to Democratic mainstream Biden: Aretha Franklin was 'part of the soul of the civil rights movement' Biden to Trump: If you think revoking Brennan's clearance will silence him, 'you just don't know the man' MORE and congressional leaders over spending cuts and proposed entitlement reforms that Republicans want in exchange for increasing the debt ceiling.

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“Any time you’re doing a budget for 10 years there are so many flashpoints, but you also have the larger negotiations going on with the leadership, and I’m talking about the Biden effort, and so that creates another dynamic that complicates matters,” he said. “You’ve got a lot of things going on simultaneously."

Democrats on the Budget panel have clashed over the balance of spending cuts to tax increases. Conrad increased the proportion of tax increases to spending cuts after liberal members of his panel, including Sen. Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersRealClearPolitics editor: Moderate Democrats are losing even when they win Sanders tests his brand in Florida Ocasio-Cortez slammed for banning press from public event MORE (I-Vt.) and Jeff MerkleyJeffrey (Jeff) Alan MerkleyBipartisanship alive and well, protecting critical infrastructure Overnight Defense: Senate sends 7B annual defense bill to Trump's desk | US sanctions Turkish officials over detained pastor | Korean War remains headed to Hawaii | Senators reassure allies on NATO support Dem strategist: It's 'far-left thinking' to call for Nielsen's resignation MORE (D-Ore.), criticized his initial draft.

Sen. Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonDem campaign chairman expresses confidence over path to Senate majority The Hill's Morning Report: Dems have a majority in the Senate (this week) Dems urge tech companies to remove 3D-gun blueprints MORE (D-Fla.), a centrist on the panel facing reelection next year, has raised concerns about advancing a budget plan with as much as $2 trillion in tax increases over the next 10 years.

“People are still debating back and forth on what’s the right mix,” Conrad said.

The Democratic senator who spoke on background said a proposed surtax on millionaires might not make it into the budget.

"I don't know that it will have the millionaire's surtax in it," the senator said. "I think it is not the biggest issue."

Asked if he supports a surtax on millionaires, Baucus said it has to be looked at in context. 

"I am not going to comment on hypotheticals," Baucus said. 


—This story was updated at 12:05 and 1:30.