Wonkbook: Senate Democrats inching towards a budget
On the politics of the budget, House Republicans are from Mars and Senate Democrats from Venus.
Both sides face the same problem: Nothing they produce has any chance of passing. But to House Republicans, that's been a reason to go big on the annual budget resolution. Unshackled from the need to write legislation the Senate can pass and the president will sign, House Republicans have used their budgets to detail a dramatic, sweeping vision for how they would remake the federal government. For Senate Democrats, it's been just the opposite: Since nothing they produce will make it through the House, they've mostly ignored the annual budget resolution and saved their political capital for the inevitable end-of-year dealmaking.
Both approaches have had their weaknesses. House Republicans ended up going too far, signing onto unpopular Medicare reforms that they tried to walk back in this year's budget and proposing deep cuts that have given the president an easy target. But Senate Democrats have developed a reputation for cowardice on fiscal issues, and Republicans have delighted in noting that we have gone more than 1,000 days without the Senate passing a budget.
If I were David Brooks, I could spin this into a profound insight about the differing psychological and cultural make-ups of the two parties. You see, scientists have found that if you give toddlers a choice between a Toyota Prius and a Ford Excursion, the ones that choose the Prius are far likelier to hide their blocks from you. That's pretty much what's going on here.
Okay, that's not true. At least, I don't think it is. I take the actual explanation to be that this is a predictable outcome of differing coalitions: John Boehner's biggest problem is keeping the extreme wing of his party happy, and that means taking more dangerous votes, while Harry Reid's biggest problem is keeping his moderates in line, and that means protecting them from dangerous votes.
This year, however, both approaches are being changed, at least a bit. Republicans have eased up on their efforts to eliminate the traditional Medicare program in their budget. And the Senate Budget Committee, led by Democrat Kent Conrad, is readying "a longer-term plan" -- short-term funding levels were set in the debt-ceiling compromise -- that will be marked up next week. The plan may or may not end up passing. But it will at least be out there.
This is, by the way, a good moment to offer an overdue correction: Last week, I offhandedly mentioned that the House Democrats didn't have a budget. I was wrong. Their budget didn't pass the House, but it certainly exists, and you can read it here.http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/ezra-klein/post/wonkbook-senate-democrats-inching-towards-a-budget/2012/04/10/gIQALNJv7S_blog.html