In January 2011, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) declared that Social Security is in fine shape. A few days past 18 months later, and with disturbing new information about the truly bleak future of Social Security, Reid has not publicly adjusted his statement, nor do I expect he plans to. This is not the only area where Reid has been complicit in an abdication of duty, however – on Tuesday National Journal reported that the nation’s top Senator is going to kick the can down the road again when it comes to his duty to pass a budget.
Reid’s stated reason for not passing a budget is that the House Republicans want to spend $19 billion less than the Budget Control Act dictated could happen in Fiscal Year 2013. However, since Reid has not passed a budget through the Senate in nearly 1,200 days – including one year when Democrats had a nearly filibuster-proof margin of votes in the Senate and a complicit Pelosi-led House – this reason is suspect at best.
There at least three other reasons Reid’s statement should be taken with a grain of salt. First, disagreements between the chambers are normal. Typically, the Senate passes legislation that is different than House legislation. Then a conference committee is put together, and differences are hashed out. A compromise bill then comes back to both chambers for an up-or-down vote. This just happened with the transportation/student loan/flood insurance law, for example.
Second, Reid could easily pass legislation through the Senate and put political pressure on House Republicans to raise their spending cap. It only takes 51 votes in the Senate to pass a budget, after all, and we all know much of the media would use the Senate’s bill as an opportunity to hammer Republicans as intransigent. Clearly, Reid has decided inaction will lose Democrats fewer seats in the fall than pro-active action – in other words, doing his job would entail more political risk, so he is going to abdicate his responsibilities. (This strategy worked so well for Reid in 2010, didn’t it?)
Third, $19 billion just isn’t very much money in the grand scheme of things. It’s one-half of one-percent of the 2012 budget, for example. It’s less than 1.5% of this year’s expected deficit. Essentially, it’s a rounding error, a drop in the bucket, whatever you want to call it, as compared to our massive national debt – about one-eighth of one percent. And yet Reid is willing to force another embarrassing debate over whether we want this year’s deficit to be gigantic and unsustainable or merely gigantic and unsustainable.
Last year, Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) said Congress should be in jail for not passing a budget within the time constraints of the law. While that is unlikely to take place, the fact is Senator Reid is purposely flouting public law, laws that he is supposed to uphold, especially since they specifically apply to his chamber. It is disappointing to see he is really going to go through with this irresponsible method of funding the federal government of the United States.