Psst Republicans: The Senate Passed The Budget Control Act in August 2011

Obama at his desk

As we await almost sure political suicide from Boehner’s broken down tea House, it’s important to remember the facts. To hear the wailing from Republicans on the floor you’d think that the President never proposed a budget with real spending cuts and that the Senate never did squat regarding spending.

Oh, they cry, Democrats just want to spend! They obviously think we missed the decade of Republican borrow and spend. In spite of the Republican love for bumper sticker slogans, a spending agreement was in the debt ceiling deal. It is called the Budget Control Act.

Senate Democrats explain, “The Budget Control Act achieved all of the essential elements of a traditional budget – setting discretionary caps, providing enforcement mechanisms, and creating a process for addressing entitlement spending and revenues.”

In many ways, the Budget Control Act was even more extensive than a traditional budget:

It has the force of law, unlike a budget resolution that is not signed by the President.
It set discretionary caps for 10 years, instead of the one year normally set in a budget resolution.
It provided enforcement mechanisms, including a two-year “deemer,” allowing budget points of order to be enforced.
And it addressed entitlement spending and revenues by creating the “Super Committee,” which was given explicit authority to reform entitlements and the tax code. The Super Committee process represented an enhanced version of the reconciliation process that can be established under a budget resolution. And it was further backed up with a $1.2 trillion sequester.

So, you see, a budget mechanism is in place. Yes, it’s not technically a “budget”, but it operates as a defacto budget in the sense that it addresses spending. Indeed, Republican Senator Collins (R-ME) referred to the Budget Control Act as a “Budget Agreement” and a “Budget Plan” in August of 2011. She said, “The budget agreement also requires a vote on a balanced budget Constitutional amendment by the end of the year…While I supported the budget plan recently passed by Congress, I did so with serious reservations.” [Collins Column, 8/5/11]

Eric Cantor said at the time (my bold), “While all of us would like to have seen a lower discretionary appropriations ceiling for the upcoming fiscal year, the debt limit agreement did set a level of spending that is a real cut from the current year level. I believe it is in our interest to enact into law full-year appropriations bills at this new lower level.”

Senate Democrats explain, “The Budget Control Act, passed by the Senate in August, set the federal budget for fiscal years 2012 and 2013 – a fact acknowledged in recent months by leading Senate Republicans.” Republicans have admitted that they know this exists:

Sen. Grassley Called the Budget Control Act a “Budget Agreement.” “We should be doing those things not only in this budget agreement, this deficit reduction agreement, but in all the decisions we make in the Congress.” [Congressional Record, 8/1/11]

Sen. Alexander Called the Budget Control Act a “Budget Agreement.” “The budget agreement we came to in August pretty well got 40 percent of the budget under control, the part we call discretionary spending – everything from national defense to national parks. It’s only growing at about the rate of inflation over the next 10 years.” [NPR, 9/22/11]

Yes, it’s a “budget agreement/plan” until Republicans are trying to paint Democrats as fiscally reckless, and then they’ve never heard of it. (They ignore that the President’s spending is the lowest since the Eisenhower Administration.)

Republicans love to throw out the accusation that Democrats have done nothing about the budget in the Democratic controlled Senate. This is inaccurate, and it’s also used to distract from the fact that the House is responsible, per Article 1 of the Constitution, for the budget. Surely the House Republicans covered this in their Constitution reading session on the taxpayer dime. Both chambers present proposals, as does the President. These proposals are then reconciled into something that will pass.

The Budget Control Act was passed by both chambers and signed into law by the President. It “created a reconciliation-like process to consider entitlement and tax reform,” and that’s where we are now.

The President’s budget has been on the White House blog for over a year and Republicans still can’t find it. Makes you wonder what they’re doing with their time. Debunking the meme that the Democratic Senate has done nothing about a budget is slightly more complicated, and this is why Republicans are so successful in selling their bumper sticker fantasies. Parsing for the win.

Last week, the House Republicans gave up after Boehner’s failed Plan B. They threw their hands up in defeat and told the Senate to fix it. Once again, the Senate stepped up to do what the House could not. Now the House is saying they don’t like how the Senate did it. Chances are slim that they’ll even put the Senate’s agreement up for a vote at this point.

The time for reconiliation has come. Man up, House.

Image: President Obama signing the Budget Control Act of 2011.

CBO analysis of the Budget Control Act here.

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