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Critics slam Senate for failing to pass a budget — three years running

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nev. talks to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, April 24, 2012, following the Democrats\' weekly strategy session.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nev. talks to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, April 24, 2012, following the Democrats\' weekly strategy session.
Associated Press

Democrats in the United States Senate are facing a rush of criticism as April 29 came and went, marking the third anniversary since the Senate passed a budget under the guidance of the Congressional Budget Act of 1974.

According to federal law, the Senate Budget Committee is supposed to pass a budget resolution by April 1, and Congress is supposed to pass one by April 15. The last time the Senate approved a budget resolution was April 29, 2009.

Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., the ranking Republican on the Senate Budget Committee, expressed his discontent.

"This is a deliberate plan that the Democratic majority has executed for three years to avoid the responsibility of laying out a financial plan for America," Sessions told The Daily Caller.

"I actually do think they have a plan," Sessions said in another interview with the Washington Free Beacon. "Their goal is to increase spending and increase taxes. But that plan will be rejected by the American people."

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said in February that he did not intend to bring a fiscal 2013 budget to the floor for a vote.

"We do not need to bring a budget to the floor this year — it's done, we don't need to do it," Reid told The Hill, referring to the debt-limit agreement from August.

Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad, D-N.D., had discussed plans to hold a budget markup in his committee in mid-April, but the plans for committee votes were later scuttled.

"This is the wrong time to vote in committee; this is the wrong time to vote on the floor," Conrad said. "I don't think we will be prepared to vote before the election."

National Review writer Rich Lowry pointed out that Democrats haven't passed a budget in a presidential election year, an off-year or a midterm-election year.

"That covers every kind of year there is in Washington," Lowry said. "By this standard, the Senate will have an annual excuse not to pass a budget resolution for the rest of time."

The failure to pass a budget has been defended by some, who say that Republicans would block any sort of budgetary movement in the Senate.

"You can't pass a budget in the Senate of the United States without 60 votes, and you can't get 60 votes without bipartisan support," White House Chief of Staff Jack Lew said on CNN in February.

However, ABC News' Jake Tapper pointed out, only 51 votes are needed to pass a budget in the Senate, where Democrats currently control 53 seats.

Democrats have criticized the House's budget, which was proposed by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and which the House passed on March 29. However, they have failed to offer a budget in return.

In a recent interview with Bret Baier, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., said President Barack Obama's budget can be considered as Democrats having a budget on the table. However, as Baier pointed out, Democrats in the Senate have not brought the president's budget up for a vote. The budget itself also does not address the growing deficit problem, as Ryan pointed out in a February hearing on the budget.

"You are right to say we're not coming before you today to say 'we have a definitive solution that that long term problem,'" Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said at the hearing, regarding the 2013 Obama budget and deficit spending plans. "What we do know is, we don't like yours."

President Obama's 2013 budget was rejected in the House at the end of March in a 0-414 vote. It was another unanimous defeat for an Obama budget, after his 2012 proposal failed in the Senate on a 97-0 vote.

"Obama has been attempting to run against a do-nothing Congress," Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., told the Washington Free Beacon. "What we have is a do-nothing Harry Reid Senate. House Republicans have fulfilled their responsibility and put forward a serious proposal. Senate Democrats have done virtually nothing."

"There are two varieties of budgetary boldness," Lowry wrote at National Review. "There's bold like Republican Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan. This involves passing out of committee detailed budget resolutions that go on to pass the entire chamber and to spark a full and frank debate about the nation's fiscal future. Then there's Kent Conrad boldness. This involves having the fortitude to defend doing nothing with threadbare rationalizations and weasely misdirections."

The U-T San Diego slammed the Senate in a staff editorial, saying, "This is government irresponsibility on an epic scale. Every trillion-dollar deficit is like an assault on this nation's future health. For a key national leader to ignore the debt crisis because the issue is politically explosive shows that as cynical as Americans are about politics, they might not be cynical enough."

According to a recent report in the Washington Examiner, Secretary of the Senate Nancy Erickson recently broke down data to show that the Senate was in session for 170 days in 2011, spending an average of 6.5 hours in session on those days — the second lowest since 1992. In the passage of public laws, the Senate passed 90 — the second lowest in 20 years — and 402 measures — also the second lowest.

The number of Senate bills offered last year also dropped 30 percent, the number of amendments dropped 55 percent, and the number of roll call votes dropped 40 percent. Additionally, the chamber confirmed a 20-year low of judicial and other nominations, leading reporter Paul Bedard to label the Senate as being among "the laziest in 20 years."

In another Washington Examiner report, reporter Joel Gehrke broke down the compensation paid to Senators over the past three years, finding that taxpayers paid Democrats in the Senate more than $38.9 million since 2009.

"For all of that money — $38,976,000 since 2009 — the taxpayers are rewarded with a Democratic majority so desperate to keep their jobs that they won't even do them," Gehrke wrote.

"President Obama must finally exercise managerial discipline and demand that his own party's Senate leaders produce their plan for the country," Sessions said. "Until then, neither he nor his Senate majority has any business asking the American people to send one more dime in new taxes to this dysfunctional government."