WASHINGTON -- After complaining much of the year that Senate Democrats have not passed a federal budget, Republicans are now using the budget they say doesn't exist to block legislation.
Democrats, indeed, have prevented a budget resolution from coming to the floor for a vote for more than three years, and Republicans have reminded them relentlessly of the failure, saying the Senate has abdicated its responsibility to lead.
Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) has maintained that the Budget Control Act passed last year to resolve the debt ceiling standoff is better than a normal budget resolution. It's actually budget law, he said -- the portion of the "fiscal cliff" that comes from spending cuts.
Nevertheless, Republican senators have incessantly decried the lack of a normal spending blueprint. Much of their caucus did so in an especially vivid demonstration on the Senate floor in September, before Congress took a break for the election.
Lately, however, the Republican senators have been citing the Budget Control Act as if it is a budget to block legislation, raising budget "points of order" on measures that spend more than authorized in the Budget Control Act. By Senate rules, such a point of order requires 60 votes to waive, much the same as overcoming a filibuster.
Perhaps the most vigorous adherent of the point-of-order strategy is Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), the top Republican on the Budget Committee.
He raised a number of objections Thursday, stymying attempts to pass legislation to extend extra federal backing of large bank transactions.
“We will adhere to the budget agreement that we made with the American people 16 months ago,” Sessions said after his point of order succeeded, referring to the Budget Control Act.
“That budget point of order said that the legislation before us violates the budget, it spends too much and that we object,” Sessions said.
Sessions was among many in his party to declare there was no budget on Sept. 20, when most of the GOP caucus went to the Senate floor in protest.
"Today marks the 1,240th day since the Democratic leadership in the Senate adopted a budget. For three years, in a time of financial crisis, the Senate's Democratic majority has failed to comply with the United States code," Sessions said.
Sessions' spokesman, Stephen Miller, said the senator was referring not to an actual budget, but either to the 1974 Congressional Budget Act that allows points of order, or to the Budget Control Act simply as a set of spending limits, not a real budget.
"It is a fact beyond dispute that the Senate Democratic majority has no budget plan, has never offered a budget plan, has no intention of offering a budget plan and to say otherwise is to deny reality in the most obvious and desperate way," Miller said.
The lack of a normal budget resolution has not stopped the government from spending money because a resolution is basically a blueprint. The actual spending is specified in authorization bills and the funding is doled out via appropriations measures. Lacking a formally approved budget does make it more difficult for congressional spending, and it has been seen as politically advantageous for Democrats to mute that discussion.
A Democratic aide, speaking anonymously to avoid sparking a new public fight, saw the point of order trend as pure hypocrisy.
“This is absolutely shameless hypocrisy from Senator Sessions and other Senate Republicans who want to have their cake and eat it too when it comes to the Budget Control Act," the aide said. "They love crowing about the Senate not passing a budget when they want to rile up their Tea Party base, but then they come to the floor with a straight face and talk about our bills violating the Senate budget they claim doesn’t exist.”
Michael McAuliff covers Congress and politics for The Huffington Post. Talk to him on Facebook.