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Conrad outlines draft budget

Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) is moving forward with his own budget resolution amid signs that the bipartisan Gang of Six talks he has championed are sputtering. 

Conrad briefed his Democratic colleagues Tuesday on a budget resolution he has drafted separately from the Gang of Six talks. A committee markup of the plan could come as soon as Monday.

He said his decision to roll out a Democratic budget should not be interpreted as a sign that the Gang of Six talks have collapsed. 

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“There are other ways to deal with what the Group of Six might come up with — you could deal with that outside of a budget resolution,” Conrad said.

But the fact that the negotiations remain ongoing is a disappointment for Conrad, who hoped the group would strike a deal this week in order to influence the deficit talks commencing Thursday under Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenFear of insider attack prompts additional FBI screening of National Guard troops: AP Iran convicts American businessman on spying charge: report DC, state capitals see few issues, heavy security amid protest worries MORE.

The bipartisan Gang of Six — made up of Conrad and Sens. Dick DurbinDick DurbinOfficials brace for second Trump impeachment trial Sunday shows - Capital locked down ahead of Biden's inauguration Durbin says he won't whip votes for Trump's second impeachment trial MORE (D-Ill.), Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerSocial media posts, cellphone data aid law enforcement investigations into riots 'Almost Heaven, West Virginia' — Joe Manchin and a 50-50 Senate Confirmation hearing for Biden's DNI pick postponed MORE (D-Va.), Tom CoburnThomas (Tom) Allen CoburnDemocrats step up hardball tactics in Supreme Court fight COVID response shows a way forward on private gun sale checks Inspector general independence must be a bipartisan priority in 2020 MORE (R-Okla.), Saxby ChamblissClarence (Saxby) Saxby ChamblissLive coverage: Georgia Senate runoffs Trump, Biden face new head-to-head contest in Georgia Ex-GOP senator from Georgia suffers mild stroke: report MORE (R-Ga.) and Mike CrapoMichael (Mike) Dean CrapoSweeping COVID-19, spending deal hits speed bumps McConnell in tough position as House eyes earmark return Mnuchin to put 5B in COVID-19 relief funds beyond successor's reach MORE (R-Idaho) — has been meeting for weeks to try and hash out a long-term solution to the budget deficit. 

The group met again Tuesday after a long negotiating session on Monday. Conrad, Durbin and Coburn did not appear upbeat when the round of talks ended. 

“Like any negotiation, some hours you’re up, and some hours you are not,” Conrad said.

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Conrad said his draft budget achieves $4 trillion in deficit reduction over 10 years — the same as the president’s fiscal commission. President Obama proposed $3 trillion in deficit reduction over 10 years in a speech last month.

The budget resolution already passed by the House cuts $5.8 trillion in spending over 10 years, transforms Medicare and does not include tax increases. Democrats have declared it dead on arrival in the Senate.

Conrad said his draft draws heavily on the fiscal commission’s ideas and includes tax-code reform that eliminates deductions while lowering rates. It also allocates new revenue for deficit reduction.

The Budget chairman said there would be some savings from entitlements in his plan. Like the president, Conrad proposes paying for the so-called “doc fix,” under which Congress routinely avoids reducing physician payments under Medicare, without offsetting the added expenditures.

He said he would not emulate Ryan’s plan to turn Medicare into a kind of voucher system, which Conrad described as “shredding” the program. Conrad’s draft does not touch Social Security.

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The budget resolution will move through the Budget Committee, Conrad said, contrary to the worries of some Republicans that it would head straight to a floor vote.

Budget Committee ranking member Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsHarris to resign from Senate seat on Monday Rosenstein: Zero tolerance immigration policy 'never should have been proposed or implemented' Sessions, top DOJ officials knew 'zero tolerance' would separate families, watchdog finds MORE (R-Ala.) said Conrad told him to expect a committee markup next Monday, but that there would not be advance copies available for a briefing. He said this is a sign that Conrad’s will be a partisan budget.

After being briefed on Conrad’s plan, fiscal conservative Democrats seemed pleased. Sen. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinBiden tax-hike proposals face bumpy road ahead Senate Democrats leery of nixing filibuster Manchin: Removing Hawley, Cruz with 14th Amendment 'should be a consideration' MORE (D-W.Va.), who has called on Democrats to embrace spending cuts, said he liked much of what he saw.

Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidThe Memo: Democrats scorn GOP warnings on impeachment Trump, Biden face new head-to-head contest in Georgia The fight begins over first primary of 2024 presidential contest MORE (D-Nev.) has warned Democrats not to sign on to any budget plan until the outcome of talks with Republicans and the administration over the debt ceiling become clear. 

Reid noted that the Conrad effort is only one of several budget options on the table, including the president’s 2012 plan and the possible Gang of Six compromise.

Minority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellGraham calls on Schumer to hold vote to dismiss article of impeachment against Trump Rove: Chances of conviction rise if Giuliani represents Trump in Senate impeachment trial Boebert communications director resigns amid Capitol riot: report MORE (R-Ky.) expressed optimism that the talks led by Biden will lead to a viable compromise.

“Those talks are beginning Thursday and will, in my view, lead to some kind of conclusion because, as you know, the clock is ticking,” McConnell said.

This story was updated at 7:39 p.m.