Revealed: Why Reid will allow Murray to produce a budget

Alternate headline: Second look at Kent Conrad?  We’ve given the retired chair of the Senate Budget Committee plenty of grief over the last three-plus years for not producing a budget, but perhaps we were a little hasty.  According to Roll Call’s report on the sudden Democratic urge to budget, there was a reason Harry Reid kept Conrad from actually doing his job, although you have to read past the jump to find it:

In addition to Democrats’ willingness to take the political risks that a budget represents, sources said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., trusts Murray to keep the party’s best political interests in mind. He did not feel the same way about Conrad, a chart-loving budget wonk who seemed uninterested in the political implications of budget policy.

Kent Conrad sucked at managing bills,” said the senior Democratic aide — unaffiliated with Murray’s office — who noted that the North Dakota Democrat was “bad at political calculations” and “a true budget policy wonk.”

“Murray is not that person,” the aide said.

So Murray is not a budget wonk who really knows her stuff.  She’s also not an independent voice on budget matters, but a reliable political hack who will front for Reid rather than produce an honest budget by working with Republicans.  It’s nice to have that openly admitted, but still rather discouraging for those of us who hope for a rational approach to eliminating deficits and putting safety-net programs on a responsible, fully-funded path.

By the way, despite public denials, the ongoing effort by Republicans to point out how many days it’s been since the Senate Budget Committee and the upper chamber complied with the law on budgeting forced an end to the obstructionism:

Some sources familiar with the process said the hammering Democrats have taken for not producing a budget in more than 1,000 days did not factor into the decision, but at least one senior Democratic aide said the GOP barrage was one of three major reasons for Senate Democrats’ change of heart on the matter.

“There are a number of things at play — one is the perception that the ‘Senate Democrats haven’t done a budget in x many days.’[It’s] a clumsy argument but one that people are beginning to gravitate toward,” the aide said. “And there’s an awareness of this as a message Republicans used that gained traction.”

The argument isn’t clumsy — but the defense certainly has been.  Reid and Democrats tried to argue that continuing resolutions are the same as budgets, but after more than 1350 days, no one’s buying that rebuttal any longer.  With the resolution to the tax rates now in the rear-view mirror, Reid lost his last excuse — but with Conrad also in the past, he can now use a reliably malleable mouthpiece to get what he wants.