Congress is required, by law, to pass a budget resolution by April 15 every year. Last year, for the first time in the history of the modern budget process, both the House and Senate failed to even vote on a budget.
This year, however, the House Budget Committee, led by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., developed a budget draft, posted it online for public comment and analysis before committee markup, then secured House passage after a wide-open debate that permitted multiple amendments to be offered from the House floor. The Ryan budget, for fiscal year 2012, was approved by the full House by the required deadline, and the country has benefited greatly from this honest open debate.
Things are a bit different in the Senate. The April 15 deadline came and went again this year without any public budget documents from Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad, D-N.D. It has now been 768 days since the Democratic-controlled Senate last passed a budget. That momentous event took place on April 3, 2009, for fiscal year 2010. The problem now is not that Senate Democrats do not have a budget proposal for 2012; Conrad spent a full day explaining it to the Democratic caucus last week. The snag is that many of Conrad’s Democratic colleagues hate it. They reportedly think it cuts too much spending and doesn’t raise taxes enough. And now Conrad is telling the budget panel’s ranking Republican, Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., that Republicans will have to vote on a committee markup of the document just minutes after he releases it to the public either Monday or Tuesday. Call it the Democratic Stealth Budget.
Obviously, Senate Democrats learned nothing from their decisive November 2010 defeat. Voters were angry with many of the policies that became law under the 111th Congress, and they were also upset by how congressional Democrats, aided and abetted by President Barack Obama, did so much of their work behind closed doors. The 1,073-page, $862 billion economic stimulus bill, for example, was written in then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office and was voted on less than 24 hours after it was posted online. The 2,700-page health care bill was also written behind closed doors, this time with assistance from industry lobbyists, and again was voted on mere hours after it was made public. No member of Congress could possibly have read either bill in any detail before casting a vote. That is no way to run a democracy, which is one of the big reasons Republican John Boehner is now speaker instead of Pelosi.
Every Republican member of the Senate Budget Committee has signed a letter to Conrad requesting that he post his budget online, at least 72 hours before committee members have to begin voting on the bill. They write: “Only by holding an open and thorough review of the budget in committee can we directly engage the American people in a process that, by right, belongs to them. Our debate can be broadcast across the country so that the millions who are impacted by our decisions can participate in their making. It is they, not us, who are in charge.” It is bad enough that Conrad and his Democratic colleagues again failed to pass a budget by April 15. He should not compound the error by keeping it secret now.