Conrad Budget Slashes Spending

06/20/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Ryan Grim Washington Bureau Chief, The Huffington Post

Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) released highlights of his proposed budget Tuesday evening after meeting with his committee colleagues and addressing the Democratic caucus earlier in the day.

The budget cuts spending further than the president called for and institutes a freeze on "all non-security discretionary spending for three years, from 2011 through 2013," according to a document put out by the committee. In other words, cutting social programs and other non-military spending.

The budget "cuts spending as a share of the economy by 11 percent. It cuts the deficit as a share of the economy by 70 percent, bringing the deficit down to 3.0 percent of GDP by 2015. It includes $671 billion more deficit reduction than President Obama's budget. It cuts taxes by $780 billion."

The budget covers five years, rather than ten. The maneuver has the benefit of halving the numbers in the press, but Conrad told reporters Tuesday evening it's been done that way 80 percent of the time in the committee.

While the middle of a jobless crisis might not be a wise time for a spending freeze, Conrad is under pressure from both sides: One element of the party - made up of conservative Democrats and various tacticians - opposes doing a budget resolution at all. It's an ugly vote in an ugly year, they argue, best to avoid it. From the other direction, Conrad's being pressured to include broad reconciliation language that would allow Democrats to move large chunks of their agenda by majority vote. Sens. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), both committee members, told HuffPost they've pushed Conrad on it, though what he'll do is still uncertain. "This is something that needs the chairman's support. This is something that he needs to initiate," said Cardin.

Conrad will begin marking up his budget on Wednesday afternoon.

"I'm pushing it very hard. If we're going to go forward and create the kind of jobs we need, we can't wait for 60 votes," said Sanders, citing the public option, energy policy, transportation and school construction as projects that could be done through reconciliation.

"I would guess that we'll have reconciliation instructions in there. I'm very supportive of it as a tool to make sure we can actually have a majority vote strategy," said Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), a member of the committee who has hammered the GOP for obstruction.

"There's a bunch of things I'd like to see reconciliated and we're going to push on that front," said Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Oregon), a committee member, coining a new term. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has promised Merkley and Sanders a vote on the public option. Doing it through reconciliation would give it a reasonable chance of passage.

But that's only if the language specifically allows it, a fight that still goes on. The question didn't come up during Conrad's talk before the caucus Tuesday, senators said.

Reconciliation is mentioned twice in Conrad's summary. The plan includes a reconciliation instruction for jobs legislation and reserve funds that "facilitate passage of other bills promoting job growth." Conrad's summary also says that his budget "continues the requirement that reconciliation be used for deficit reduction only."