Following a preemptive strike by Republicans on the Senate Budget Committee warning Democratic Chairman Kent Conrad against trying to quickly pass his resolution through the panel in a kind of budget blitzkrieg, speculation is growing that Conrad and the so-called “gang of six” might try to skip right over the committee.
“I am becoming concerned that Chairman Conrad may bypass the committee process altogether,” the committee’s top Republican, Sen. Jeff Sessions, said.
In response to a Tuesday letter from the committee’s Republicans, Conrad’s communications director, Stu Nagurka, sent a statement to The Daily Caller that seems to provoke more questions than it answers.
“The Budget Committee has always had a completely open mark-up process for the budget resolution,” Nagurka said. However, that assurance is off topic: The top request of the Republicans was allowing 72 hours to review the proposal, not an open process. It says nothing about what will happen going forward.
The next part of the statement regards how Conrad hopes a group of bipartisan senators negotiating a spending deal, called the gang of six in classic Washington parlance, will come to an agreement that could comprise the “framework for the Senate budget resolution.”
“And Chairman Conrad understands the urgency of dealing with our nation’s long-term deficits. That’s why he has been working hard for months on a bipartisan, comprehensive deficit reduction plan. He wants to give the Group of 6 a chance to reach agreement so that he could consider using that bipartisan plan as a framework for the Senate budget resolution,” Nagurka said.
To summarize, Nagurka offers a throwaway line about past committee practices and does not make assurances about what will take place in the committee that Conrad chairs.
Nagurka did not respond to multiple emails and phone calls asking for clarification over the past 24 hours.
Why is this important?
The gang of six have spent months in secret negotiations over a spending deal they hope can form a politically plausible way to reduce rampant federal deficits.
But if the proposal were suddenly thrust into the harsh scrutiny of an open committee markup, senators on the left and right wings might blow the whole deal up, forcing tough votes on tax increases or spending reductions in the proposal.
Bypassing the committee could be a tempting tactic to reduce that scrutiny, but it could also become World War III if rank-and-file senators decide they’ll no longer follow a self-anointed Senate club off a political cliff.
In Sessions’ view, the process is as important, too – not just the substance of the agreement.
“Rumors that the Gang of Six proposal may contain a substantial increase in Americans’ tax burden speaks to a broader concern: that the public is being removed from this process by crafting a budget behind closed doors instead of in a committee that is open to the public and the press. We shouldn’t fear open debate. The American people have a right to know,” Sessions said.
“With still no mark-up scheduled, weeks after the deadline has passed, I am becoming concerned that Chairman Conrad may bypass the committee process altogether,” Sessions said.