Budget Committee chair holds off on offering budget plan, ignores transparency requests

Amanda Carey Contributor
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Democrats on the Senate Budget Committee, led by Sen. Kent Conrad, are responsible for producing the Senate budget proposal for the next fiscal year. After weeks of talks and missed deadlines, it’s looking increasingly likely that Conrad will wait until the last possible moment to release his proposal.

Republicans had expected a hearing last week to mark up the proposal, but one was never scheduled. Sources familiar with the situation confirmed to The Daily Caller that Conrad did not ask Republicans to be available over the weekend to sign off on a hearing notice, which is required to happen 48-hours before a hearing can take place. That means the earliest a hearing could happen is the middle of this week.

Sources also told TheDC that Republicans do not even expect Conrad to release his proposal until after the opening statements in the hearing, leaving Republicans on the committee to mark up a budget proposal they have not yet had a chance to read.

Alabama Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions, ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee, has been particularly vocal in calling on the Democrats to produce a budget and pointing out that it has been more than 740 days since the Senate passed a budget.

In recent weeks, Sessions has also sent two letters signed by every Republican member of the Budget Committee to Conrad asking that he release and post his budget proposal at least 72 hours in advance of a markup. Conrad has ignored those requests.

Conrad has held off releasing a budget proposal in hopes that the Gang of Six, a bipartisan group of senators working in secret to come up with a budget plan, could reach a bipartisan resolution. So far, the Gang’s talks have not reached an agreement, which puts pressure on Conrad to release a purely Democratic proposal.

That proposal would go up against the budget plan produced by House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan, Wisconsin Republican, which passed the House on April 15.

But Conrad is having trouble getting support for his plan even from the Democrats on his committee. Earlier this week it was reported that the chairman made significant changes to his budget to appease independent Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont.

Sanders, one of the most liberal members of the Senate, was not happy with Conrad’s first plan, saying it was too light on “shared sacrifice.” Sanders wants increased taxes on the wealthy as part of the solution to reduce the deficit. Republicans, however, have repeatedly said tax increases are out of the question.

But Conrad needs Sanders’ vote, as committee membership is made up of 11 Democrats, 11 Republicans and Sanders, who caucuses with the Democrats. Without reaching a bipartisan consensus, losing Sanders’ vote or the support of any Democrat on the committee could doom Conrad’s budget proposal to failure. Considering tax increases to placate Sanders, however, runs the risk of alienating more centrist Democrats on the committee, like Sens. Bill Nelson of Florida and Mark Begich of Alaska.

Leaked details of Conrad’s budget suggest that Sanders’ demands may not be met.

“The Democrat Senate should produce a budget based on facts,” said Sessions in a speech last week. “They should produce a budget without gimmicks and empty promises. They should produce this budget publicly and openly, allowing the American people to review and consider it before our committee meets.”

Conrad’s office has not yet responded to multiple requests for comment.

WATCH: Sessions on the budget