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 BaucusTrump has yet to travel west as president Healthcare profiles in courage and cowardice OPINION | On Trump-Russia probe, don’t underestimate Sen. Chuck Grassley 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 ChamblissSaxby ChamblissFormer GOP senator: Let Dems engage on healthcare bill OPINION: Left-wing politics will be the demise of the Democratic Party GOP hopefuls crowd Georgia special race 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 BidenJoe BidenMoore, Strange advance in Alabama GOP primary Alabama GOP Senate primary: live results White House clarifies: We condemn all violence 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) SandersThe media couldn't be more blatant in distorting Trump's words on Charlottesville Road to renewable energy is filled with potholes of ‘magic thinking’ Bernie Sanders: Trump’s Charlottesville comments ‘embarrassing’ MORE (I-Vt.) and Jeff MerkleyJeff MerkleyPresident Trump, listen to candidate Trump and keep Volcker Rule Senators push federal prisons to expand compassionate release Senate confirms Trump's new FBI director MORE (D-Ore.), criticized his initial draft.

Sen. Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonThe five kinds of Republicans who could primary Trump Overnight Tech: Senate confirms two FCC commissioners | Dems want more time on net neutrality | Tech groups push White House on 'startup visa' Senate confirms two new FCC commissioners 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.