Republicans block Reid move to form Senate budget conference

Senate Republicans on Tuesday prevented Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) from setting up a budget conference.

Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) blocked Reid’s request that the Senate unanimously agree to form a budget conference committee aimed at reconciling the wildly different House and Senate budget resolutions.

Toomey said his objection was on behalf of Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), the ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee, who wasn’t able to be present.

Republicans said the two parties should first agree to a framework for the subsequent talks, arguing that will make a deal more likely.

Democrats say Republicans want to avoid a public conference on the budget that would highlight their opposition to raising taxes on the wealthy.

They argue the GOP opposition to setting up a conference committee is hypocritical, given GOP calls for a return to regular order.

“It seems House Republicans don’t want to be seen even discussing the possibility of compromise with the Democrats for fear of a Tea Party revolt,” Reid said.

“A strange thing happened: House Republicans did a complete 180. They flipped. They’re no longer interested in regular order even though they preached that for years,” Reid said.

The budget passed in the Senate last month is the first moved by the chamber’s Democrats in four years. Republicans had criticized Reid and Senate Democrats for their inaction on the normal budget process, calling it irresponsible.

Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) have been meeting about setting up a conference, but Democrats say the House GOP is dragging its feet.

Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) said there should at least be an agreement between Ryan and Murray before a conference is launched.

“To go to conference before you have any sense of whether there is any chance of getting an outcome strikes us as not making much sense,” he said.

Reid said last week that no backroom agreement is necessary to proceed with regular order.

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has said it is customary to try to reach a framework deal of sorts before staring a conference. Under House rules, if the committee were to fail to resolve differences after 20 days, any member could slow work in the House with motions to instruct conferees, he said.

“It is ‘regular order’ for the budget chairs to agree to a framework before conferees are named, and Chairman Ryan and Sen. Murray are having those conversations,” Boehner spokesman Michael Steel said.

“It is difficult to see what Sen. Reid’s stunt today will do to help if Senate Democrats don’t even agree we need to balance the budget in the first place.”

The House-passed budget cuts $4.6 trillion in spending on top of the $1.2 trillion sequestration cuts already scheduled to take effect, and it balances in 10 years.

The Senate-passed budget has $975 billion in new taxes, does not balance and does not cut spending when the fact that it eliminates sequestration is taken into account.