Sen. Conrad backs off plan to vote on budget

Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) bowed to pressure from fellow Democrats on Tuesday and postponed a committee vote on a 2013 budget resolution, most likely until after the November elections.

Conrad on Wednesday will begin a committee markup of a resolution based on the Bowles-Simpson deficit recommendations, but told reporters there is no date scheduled on which the markup vote would occur. 

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“This is the wrong time to vote in committee; this is the wrong time to vote on the floor,” he said. “I don’t think we will be prepared to vote before the election.”

He said the decision would disappoint some Democrats who craved a budget plan to rally around and some Republicans who longed for a plan to attack.

Indeed, the decision was denounced immediately by the GOP, which has lambasted Senate Democrats for months for failing to consider a standalone budget resolution for the last two years.

Ranking member Sen. Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsBudowsky: Senate must protect Mueller from Barr, President Trump Feinstein grappling with vote on AG nominee Barr Central American women fleeing domestic violence deserve refugee status MORE (R-Ala.) said that Conrad’s about-face had taken him completely off guard Tuesday afternoon. He said he learned of the decision as he was preparing budget amendments to offer on Wednesday.

“I believe Conrad was prepared to go forward … I was very, very surprised,” Sessions said. “It is very clear that members of his committee and the entire Democratic Conference and the leader did not want his members to cast votes.”

Sessions said that Conrad is failing to live up to a pledge he made to Sessions during last summer’s debt-ceiling talks to hold a markup in committee on a budget.

“That is not a markup … certainly until it’s been completed it’s not a markup,” he said.

Sessions and GOP members were prepared to stage amendment votes on repealing President Obama's healthcare reform law, on the spending scandal involving lavish parties by the General Services Administration and on lowering overall spending limits.

At Wednesday’s meeting, Conrad will present a version of the bipartisan recommendations of President Obama’s 2010 fiscal commission for committee discussion and opening remarks. The panel will then consider that report privately until a date uncertain.

“I absolutely recognize that adjustments will have to be made for this plan to be adopted,” Conrad told reporters. “I would be open to reaching conclusion as soon as possible. It is unlikely that we will reach agreement until after the election.”

Conrad had tried for weeks to come up with a Democratic budget but then switched to offering the Bowles-Simpson fiscal commission report.

Conrad said he made the more recent decision to postpone votes after polling committee Democrats and seeing another version of the fiscal commission report, which was authored by former Clinton Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles and former Sen. Alan Simpson (R-Wyo.), go down to defeat in a House vote last month.

The Bowles-Simpson amendment to the House GOP budget got only 38 votes on the floor.

Among committee Democrats, Bowles-Simpson has some support, but not enough to pass the committee.

The commission report calls for reforms to Social Security, which include raising the retirement age. This makes it problematic for some Democrats. Staunch opponent of Social Security cuts Sen. Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersTexas man indicted over allegations he created fraudulent campaign PACs Overnight Energy: Wheeler weathers climate criticism at confirmation hearing | Dems want Interior to stop drilling work during shutdown | 2018 was hottest year for oceans Dems offer measure to raise minimum wage to per hour MORE (I-Vt.) declined to comment on the Conrad plan Tuesday.

The Conrad plan also includes new net revenue from tax reform. The tax reform would limit popular tax deductions such as for employer-sponsored healthcare, mortgage interest and charity.

Sen. Mark BegichMark Peter BegichDem governors on 2020: Opposing Trump not enough Dem Begich concedes Alaska governor race to Republican Dunleavy Democrats gain governorships in red states MORE (D-Alaska) is known to be protective of oil and gas tax preferences, while Sen. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenIRS waiving penalty for some in first filing season under Trump's tax law Mobile providers at center of privacy storm Hillicon Valley: House chair seeks emergency briefing on wireless industry's data sharing | AG nominee to recuse himself from AT&T-Time Warner merger | Dem questions Treasury, IRS on shutdown cyber risks MORE (D-Ore.) has favored more wide-reaching Medicare reforms closer to those in the House-passed budget.

Sessions said that the Conrad version includes $2.6 trillion in new net taxes.

“Even if they favor more taxes, they don’t want to be seen voting for it,” Sessions said of committee Democrats.

Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidHarry Reid knocks Ocasio-Cortez's tax proposal: Fast 'radical change' doesn't work Overnight Defense: Trump rejects Graham call to end shutdown | Coast Guard on track to miss Tuesday paychecks | Dems eye Trump, Russia probes | Trump talks with Erdogan after making threat to Turkey's economy Harry Reid on Iraq War vote: 'It tainted my heart' MORE (D-Nev.) had already stated that a budget resolution would not be given a floor vote even if the committee could come to some agreement. 

He has argued that the August debt-ceiling deal technically provides a discretionary spending budget for 2013, thereby satisfying legal requirements to consider a budget.

Conrad reiterated that point on Tuesday, but said he wanted to provide a framework to start discussions on a long-term budget plan, possibly for use in a lame-duck session when Bush-era tax rates are set to expire.

A Democratic aide said that Reid and Conrad had consulted closely on how to move forward with the markup.

“This is not Conrad going off the reservation,” the aide made clear.

Senate Majority Whip Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinTrump AG pick: I won't be 'bullied' by anyone, including the president Live coverage: Trump AG pick grilled on Mueller probe at confirmation hearing Senate Dems set to take aim at new Trump attorney general pick MORE (D-Ill.), who consulted with Conrad in recent days, said that he understood Conrad’s attempt to take the temperature of his committee but said the Senate is not ready to come together on a bipartisan plan yet.

“I understand what Kent is doing. He is taking a measure of the committee to see if there is a bipartisan or majority opinion on what to do to move forward,” Durbin said. “I doubt that this is possible at the moment. It is a possibility closer to the end of the year, as we get closer to the fiscal cliff.”