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What Should We Expect From the Next Senate Budget?

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The Exchange

By Noelle Clemente, American Action Forum

Predicting the future is the lifeblood of Washington. What will the other side do? What will the numbers be? Political, policy, and press interests devote equal time to reading the tea leaves. So while the Washington press corps exhausts all of its energy gossiping about the next House and how Chairman Paul Ryan will achieve balance in 10 years, the more interesting story emanates from the upper chamber. For the first time in more than three years the Senate has said it will produce a budget through regular order.

So let’s get to the prediction. To make an educated guess, we look at votes the Senate has taken, in the absence of a budget proposal of their own, and the statements of incoming Budget Committee Chairman Patty Murray since assuming her new role.

A Look Back

Voting records show that the only budget proposal in recent years to actually earn support in the Senate came from the House of Representatives. And to those who would assume the Senate’s budget would look a lot like the president’s budget proposal, the same records show that two years in a row the Democrat-led Senate gave the president’s budget proposals exactly zero votes (2011 and 2012).

Votes don’t seem to say much. What about public statements? From Senate Budget Chairman Patty Murray it’s been little more than tired rhetoric:

  • Prior to the House agreement requiring that the Senate produce a budget, “Senate Budget Chairman Patty Murray, D-Wash., directed her staff to explore the pros and cons of actually crafting a budget resolution.” (Roll Call)
  • “Democrats are eager to contrast our pro-growth, pro-middle class budget priorities with the House Republicans’ Ryan budget that would end Medicare as we know it, gut investments in jobs and programs middle-class families depend on, and cut taxes for the wealthiest Americans and biggest corporations,” Murray said. (Washington Post)
  • “We could raise hundreds of billions of dollars by making sure the rich no longer benefit disproportionately from deductions and other tax preferences," she wrote in a memo to Senate Democrats.” (WSJ)
  • “Republicans know that our tax code is riddled with giveaways for the wealthiest Americans and biggest corporations,” Murray wrote. “The alternative to raising additional revenue is spending cuts so large that they would be devastating to middle class families who have already sacrificed so much.” (Fiscal Times)

If the Senate follows through on its promise to produce a budget, one should expect to see something on paper no later than April 1, but likely sooner for procedural reasons. Recent voting history and quotes from Chairman Murray offer little more than the promise of higher tax rates, a minimal look at “tax reform” that amounts to cherry-picking easy loopholes and deductions, and nothing to address the entitlement spending that plagues the country’s long-term economic outlook.

It's Time for Answers

Not all predictions are equally hard. It’s time for the Washington press corps to shift their crystal balls from something tired and easy – the third budget being offered under the leadership of Chairman Ryan – to something new and challenging: Chairman Murray and her colleagues offering a Senate budget for the first time in 1,373 days.

That’s where the story is, and that’s a prediction than matters.

The American Action Forum is an independent nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization, and it is not affiliated with or controlled by any political group.