Why the Senate Won’t Pass a Budget

This week the U.S. Senate will consider a series of amendments to the budget resolution. A budget resolution sets out spending and revenue guidelines for Congress’s annual appropriations process.

Except that the Senate won’t pass a budget resolution this year. To Hill watchers, this isn’t too surprising – the media is quick to point out the Senate hasn’t passed a budget resolution in three years. Although they usually just say “a budget,” which is technically wrong. But that’s another story.

The House has already passed its own budget resolution introduced by House Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan. It passed in March on basically a party-line vote.

Senate Budget Committee Chair Kent Conrad has stated that he won’t introduce a traditional budget resolution, but will instead rely on last summer’s Budget Control Act to set spending levels for appropriators. Meanwhile, several GOP Senators are expected to offer their own budget resolutions, most of which look very much like the House budget and focus on cutting non-defense spending while reducing taxes on individuals and corporations.

Experts speculate that Senator Conrad’s reluctance to introduce his own budget resolution is due to doubts about whether he can rally Senate Democrats to support such a bill. Senate Democrats are divided on the budget: Some support significant spending reductions while others seek to protect domestic programs.

In an interesting and related twist, the draft budget resolution that most closely resembles President Obama’s fiscal year 2013 budget request is not being introduced by a Democrat. Instead, it is expected to be introduced by Senator Jeff Sessions, the highest ranking Republican on the Budget Committee. This is viewed by many as a political manoeuver intended to force Democrats to vote against the President.

So, what can we expect in the Senate this week? To paraphrase Shakespeare's MacBeth, expect a debate "full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."

UPDATE FROM WASHINGTON – Late on Wednesday May 16 the Senate voted on five versions of the budget resolution, defeating each one. A version of the House budget resolution was defeated 41-58, with all Democrats and GOP Senators Brown (MA), Collins, Heller, Paul and Snowe voting against it. A similar version introduced by Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA) was also defeated 42-57, again with all Democrats opposing, along with GOP Senators Brown (MA), Collins, Heller and Snowe. The version similar to the President's budget request introduced by Sen. Jeff Sessions was defeated 0-99. Two additional proposals by Senators Rand Paul (R-KY) and Mike Lee (R-UT) were both handily defeated, failing by 16-83 and 17-82 respectively.