Will the GOP force normal order on budgets to resolve debt limit?

posted at 10:41 am on January 8, 2013 by Ed Morrissey

That’s certainly the plan, writes Byron York.  Debt limits usually get set as part of normal budgeting, allowing for some flexibility in case of emergency but designed to cover the the planned deficit spending authorized specifically by Congress in a complete federal budget.  That process had gotten derailed by Senate Democrats and their refusal to produce budgets — motivated by Harry Reid’s desire to keep FY2010 spending as the baseline, and also to protect Democrats from accountability:

Tuesday marks the 1,350th day since the Senate passed a budget. The law requires Congress to pass a budget every year, on the grounds that Americans deserve to know how the government plans to spend the trillions of taxpayer dollars it collects, along with dollars it borrows at the taxpayers’ expense. But Majority Leader Harry Reid, who last allowed a budget through the Senate in April 2009, has ignored the law since then.

There’s no mystery why. The budget passed by large Democratic majorities in the first months of the Obama administration had hugely elevated levels of spending in it. By not passing a new spending plan since, Reid has in effect made those levels the new budgetary baseline. Congress has kept the government going with continuing resolutions based on the last budget signed into law.

While Reid has forbidden action, the House has passed budgets as required. Senate Democrats have been highly critical of those budgets, designed by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan. But under Reid’s leadership, Democrats have steadfastly refused to come up with a plan of their own.

The situation is deeply frustrating for many Republicans. Sen. Jeff Sessions, ranking Republican on the Senate Budget Committee, has conducted a virtual crusade on the issue, loudly and consistently and unsuccessfully demanding that Reid obey the law and pass a budget. Now, with a fight over the debt ceiling approaching, Sessions wants to try something new.

“I think it should be a firm principle that we should not raise the debt ceiling until we have a plan on how the new borrowed money will be spent,” Sessions told me Monday in a phone conversation from his home in Alabama. “If the government wants to borrow money so it can spend more, then the government ought to tell the Congress and the American people how they will spend it.”

It’s not just the debt limit, and it’s not just to keep baseline spending artificially high, either.  Ever since it became clear that Republicans would likely win the lower chamber thanks to Democratic overreach, Harry Reid has shut down the budget process in order to create all sorts of false budgetary crises.  Issues like tax policy and debt limits would normally be resolved in conference committee, with perhaps a short-time continuing resolution to extend the previous budget authorizations a few days to conclude negotiations at the beginning of a budget cycle.

Instead, we have run the government for 1350 days by continuing resolutions and omnibus catch-alls, perhaps the least efficient ways of legislating and of working out compromises.  Why? Reid doesn’t want conference committees and compromises — he wants capitulations.  That’s why we keep careening from crisis to crisis, from cliff to cliff.

How serious are Republicans at pressing this strategy?  So far this morning, I’ve already received two e-mails from sources on Capitol Hill promoting Byron’s piece.  It’s the rare political strategy that not only benefits a party but is also objectively the right thing to do.  We need to stop disconnecting debt ceilings from the normal budget process, but that can only happen when Congress has a normal budget process in place.  We haven’t seen a normal budget process in more than three years, and the debt ceiling may be the only way to force Reid to abide by the law and get back to work.

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