Days before a likely markup of Democratic Sen. Kent Conrad’s budget blueprint, the top Republican on the Senate Budget Committee is unloading on the North Dakota chairman, blasting his plan to release the budget only minutes before it is marked up in committee.
Conrad “indicated to me he was not going to comply with the request of all the Republican members that there be 72 hours …. that a short time before the hearing, maybe the morning of the hearing that we’d get some sort of briefing, I would, maybe not the rest of the members, then we’d start the markup of the bill,” said Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, the top GOP lawmaker on the Budget Committee, in an interview with The Daily Caller.
In protesting the cloaked process by which Conrad has deliberated over the budget – including meetings with a “gang of six” in cloistered Capitol hideaways – Republicans appear to have diverted Democrats from skipping the Budget Committee altogether, Sessions said.
“Apparently it was discussed. That was not just a rumor,” Sessions said, “I think we would have had a real brouhaha over that.” A spokesman for Conrad did not reply to a request for comment.
Sessions, who has taken an increasingly high-profile role representing the GOP on high-stakes spending battles in the upper chamber, decried in general the idea of small, clubby “gangs” of senators laboring to strike bipartisan spending deals out of the public eye.
“There seems to be a belief that we can never finish a budget and reach an agreement in an open process. There’s gotta be some secret meeting. Now the vice president’s meeting with them, you know, today. Well, why not? When did we get to the point that democracy no longer functions? That open hearings no longer function? People going off to meet at the Blair House or the basement of the Capitol somewhere, without the American people involved, and try to arrange our financial future?” Sessions said.
Conrad told reporters Tuesday his budget will cut $4 trillion from future deficits over ten years, drawing critics on his left flank. But the exact makeup of how Conrad achieves the savings, for instance how much spending cuts versus tax increases, is unknown.
Besides Conrad’s secrecy, Sessions said Democrats haven’t been held accountable for not producing their own detailed plan to reduce rampant federal deficits, even while lambasting the House GOP budget pushed by Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan as “draconian.”
“Why won’t they stand up and say what they think America ought to be like?” Sessions asked. “The American people are entitled to know what their position is.”
“They have a fundamental problem. They cannot produce a budget that has the support of their Democratic colleagues that will be sufficient to satisfy the American people that know we’re on an unsustainable course. You’ve got Bernie Sanders on that committee. You’ve got a number of other liberal Democrats,” Sessions said.
The markup of Conrad’s budget could take place as soon as Tuesday.