The Do Nothing Senate
- When it comes to their core responsibility under the law of passing a budget resolution, they are A.W.O.L. Budget Chairman Kent Conrad can’t get a bill through his own committee, much less onto the Senate floor. Mr. Conrad says he wants to “defer” to the negotiations between the White House and Republicans. The truth is that his troops don’t want to go on record voting for the tax increases that are the Democratic default for every fiscal problem.
Cool Hand Harry
Wall Street Journal
May 26, 2011
Paul Newman’s famous line after bluffing his way to a big poker pot in “Cool Hand Luke” was: “Sometimes nothing can be a pretty cool hand.” That’s as good a description as any of the Senate Democratic strategy for attacking the $14.3 trillion federal debt. Do nothing.
Lest voters forget, Democrats still run the Senate, or at least they do when they want to filibuster House Republican reform bills. When it comes to their core responsibility under the law of passing a budget resolution, they are A.W.O.L. Budget Chairman Kent Conrad can’t get a bill through his own committee, much less onto the Senate floor. Mr. Conrad says he wants to “defer” to the negotiations between the White House and Republicans. The truth is that his troops don’t want to go on record voting for the tax increases that are the Democratic default for every fiscal problem.
The contrast between Senate Democrats and House Republicans on the budget could hardly be sharper. No matter what one thinks of Paul Ryan’s House budget priorities, no one can deny that it’s a detailed tax and spending outline that makes difficult choices and would reduce the debt by $5 trillion over 10 years.
Mr. Conrad had proclaimed that he would cut $4 trillion from the baseline deficit over the next decade, with half of the savings from unspecified spending cuts and the other half from tax increases. Perhaps Mr. Conrad discovered it isn’t so easy finding $2 trillion in spending cuts without touching Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, which account for about half the budget but are the Holy Trinity of the entitlement state.
A bigger mystery is where Mr. Conrad’s $2 trillion in new taxes are supposed to come from. Democrats don’t even count the $700 billion from allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire for those earning more than $200,000 a year, and which are already built into the Congressional Budget Office baseline after 2012. The Washington Post reports that Senate Democrats were set to propose a three percentage point income tax surcharge, which would make a farce of Democratic promises not to raise tax rates above the Bill Clinton-era rates. But that would raise only a fraction of the $2 trillion, even on static-revenue grounds that assumed no damage to the economy and no income sheltering.
Majority Leader Harry Reid has tried to change the subject to raising taxes on oil companies, but that also yields a pittance and even three members of his own caucus refused to go along. Democrats have collided with the realities of arithmetic: If they want to raise $2 trillion in revenues, they have to raise taxes on the middle class. No wonder Mr. Conrad decided to bluff.
Both parties have dug the current fiscal hole, but the Democratic record during their four recent years of running Congress is truly calamitous. The nearby chart shows the growth of debt and spending since 2007 when Nancy Pelosi was elevated to House Speaker and Mr. Reid became Senate Majority Leader. On their watch the national debt more than doubled and annual spending rose by a little under $1 trillion. In a mere four years.
“It would be foolish for us to do a budget at this stage,” Mr. Reid told the Los Angeles Times last Thursday. And as if to prove the point about Senate fecklessness, he carved out time yesterday to force a meaningless floor vote on Mr. Ryan’s budget, which failed 40-57. Republicans then offered Mr. Obama’s budget, which lost 0-97. Voters might conclude that it’s foolish to keep electing Democratic Senators who won’t do their job.