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Kent Conrad’s Budget Folly

Paul Ryan is set to release the details of the House Republican budget resolution tomorrow.  While liberals, conservatives, tea partiers, etc. will have plenty to say about the content of the budget, we must all acknowledge that Ryan has worked assiduously to formulate a coherent blueprint for a responsible budget.  The same cannot be said for his counterpart in the Senate.

Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad has not produced a budget of any sort in almost 1100 days!  Yet, he has the temerity to call Ryan’s budget a “breach of faith.”  CQ reports:

Senate Budget Chairman Kent Conrad and Appropriations Chairman Daniel K. Inouye, acting ahead of a House Republican action to lower discretionary spending below the level agreed to last year, on Monday urged GOP leaders to stick to the level set in a pact with the White House.

In a letter to House Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio and Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia, they said if the House GOP adopts lower spending levels it would delay action on this year’s appropriations bills and represent “a breach of faith that will make it more difficult to negotiate future agreements.”

House Budget Committee Chairman Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., plans to unveil a budget on Tuesday with a fiscal 2013 discretionary spending limit of $1.028 trillion, $19 billion less than the $1.047 trillion limit in the debt limit law (PL 112-25).

There are two glaring points that are overlooked in this puerile letter.  First, the Budget Control Act did not dictate a set level of spending; it established a cap.  In other words, we cannot breach the $1.047 trillion spending level, but there is nothing stopping us from the imperative to spend less.  Conrad makes it seem like it’s a cardinal sin to underspend the caps.  Only in Washington can someone advance such logic with so much conviction.

Moreover, Conrad is wrong about $1.047 being the bottom line figure, even under the BCA.  We all know that on January 1, 2013, three months after the start of the fiscal year, there will be an automatic sequester of $97 billion in spending.  Consequently, the ultimate spending cap for FY 2013 will actually be $950 billion.  It is more responsible to get out ahead of the sequester and steer the $97 billion to targeted expenditures rather than sit idly while the sequester cuts a disproportionate amount from the military, and does so indiscriminately.

Then again, Conrad doesn’t know too much about prudent budgeting because he doesn’t believe in budgets.  Instead of doing the hard work of creating a budget, Conrad plans to slightly embellish the BCA and deem it a budget resolution.  That’s a “breach in trust” of those who elected him to formulate a budget.

On the other hand, it’s hard to blame Conrad for his timidity.  If you don’t propose a plan to tackle such politically benign issues as…. entitlements, the tax code, welfare, and farm subsidies, nobody can criticize it.

Cross-posted from The Madison Project

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