House and Senate Democrats are preparing to vote on one-year spending plans instead of adopting a regular five-year budget resolution — a strategy they once criticized Republicans for pursuing.
The plans would set limits on discretionary spending for one year. They would not contain the politically treacherous deficit projections that a regular budget resolution would include — and that many Democrats are not eager to vote on.
A budget resolution sets the parameters for considering future tax and spending bills and allows the majority party to show how its policies would affect the deficit over five years. It also sets the cap for the annual spending bills and can contain what are known as reconciliation instructions, which allow budget-related legislation to be moved later in the year through the Senate without the threat of filibuster.
House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer defended the decision to go with a one-year plan, arguing it would enforce discretionary spending limits for fiscal 2011 and buy time for the president’s deficit commission to draw up proposals for reducing the amount of red ink on the government’s books. If 14 of the 18 members of the commission can agree on a plan, it will be sent to Congress in December.
“It isn’t possible to debate and pass a realistic, long-term budget until we’ve considered the bipartisan commission’s deficit reduction plan,” Hoyer, D-Md., said in a speech Tuesday at an event hosted by Third Way, a centrist Democratic policy organization.
Hoyer said the one-year plan would cap discretionary spending at a level lower than President Obama has proposed for fiscal 2011, although he didn’t say how much lower.
The Senate Budget Committee approved a budget resolution (S Con Res 60) on April 22, but given the House’s decision, the Senate is now eyeing a one-year plan as well, according to Budget Chairman Kent Conrad, D-N.D.
“Obviously, I’d prefer that we do what I’ve done, which is take a budget resolution through the committee, prepared to take it to the floor. But if they’re not going to do it, it makes no sense for us to do it, because you can’t reach conclusion,” Conrad said. “What does make sense, to me, is to put in a budget enforcement mechanism, like the one they’re discussing, so that you do have spending limits put in place.”
Both chambers could vote on the one-year plan this month as part of a bill (HR 4899) providing funding for military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq.
“We’ll have to see in what form they send us their proposal, because that will in some ways effect what we’re able to do here,” Conrad said. “Until I see what they’ve done, it is very hard for me to describe the next move.”
Congress did not produce a final House-Senate budget agreement in 1998, 2002, 2004 or 2006, but since the current system was established in 1974, the House always has voted on its own version of a budget resolution.
Democrats were highly critical of Republicans when they controlled Congress and did not produce a final House-Senate budget. The GOP is repaying the favor by lambasting Democrats for not putting forward a five-year outline, arguing it is evidence they do not have a plan to curtail deficits.
“House Democrats have offered no budget, no priorities, and no restraints — yet the taxing, spending, and borrowing all continue unchecked,” Rep. Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin, the ranking Republican on the House Budget Committee, said in a release.
Hoyer said a long-term plan is needed to put the federal budget on a sustainable path and that tax increases and spending cuts would be required. So far, however, Democrats have not produced such a plan, instead pointing to Obama’s deficit commission as the forum for such decisions.
In the absence of a budget resolution, the spending cap can be set through what is known as a “deeming resolution.” Democrats, however, are trying to rebrand that legislation as a “budget enforcement resolution.”
Hoyer said the resolution also would make some technical alterations to the pay-as-you-go rule — which requires offsetting the cost of new mandatory spending or tax cuts — to better align it with a new law of the same name (PL 111-139). It also would call on committee chairmen to identify wasteful spending under their jurisdiction; reiterate House leaders’ intention to vote on any recommendations the deficit commission produces; and endorse the commission’s goal of reducing the deficit from about 10 percent of gross domestic product to 3 percent in fiscal 2015.
Hoyer also said it is unlikely the House will move all 12 of the annual appropriations bills individually, but at least some could come to the floor next month. House appropriators are scheduled to mark up their first fiscal 2011 spending bills this week — Energy and Water on Thursday and Homeland Security on Friday.
The Senate is not expected to vote on many, if any, of the spending bills before the Oct. 1 start of the fiscal year.
Republicans criticized Democrats for that decision, as well, even though they often did not complete the annual work on spending bills when they were in the majority.
“Instead of acting responsibly to pass a budget and appropriations bills that cut spending, Democrat leaders are succumbing to election year panic and are engaged in delay tactics and rule-bending to avoid tough fiscal decisions,” said Rep. Jerry Lewis of California, the ranking Republican on the Appropriations Committee.