* Senator tries to revive fiscal commission deficit plan
* Conrad won't stage vote seen as risky for Democrats
* Bowles-Simpson plan offered as year-end blueprint
By David Lawder
WASHINGTON, April 18 Republicans have been
pressuring U.S. Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad to
offer up a budget plan, and on Wednesday, he gave them one -
Conrad, a fiscal hawk who is due to retire early next year,
will try to revive a 2010 fiscal commission's mix of
recommendations to slash federal deficits through tax hikes and
spending cuts. But no votes on the plan are expected before
His committee began a review of a modified version of the
so-called Bowles-Simpson plan - viewed by many centrists as a
model for bipartisan pragmatism - but the panel's "mark-up"
session will not feature the usual amendments or a vote.
Instead, the Democratic budget blueprint for fiscal 2013,
which starts on Oct. 1, will sit in a legislative holding
pattern, possibly until voters decide in November on the
direction they want the country to go.
The Democratic-focused budget is not what many had expected,
especially as Conrad said as recently as Sunday that he would
stage a committee vote on a budget, even if party leaders were
not inclined to consider it in the full Senate.
But the effort allows him to say that he's started the
budgeting process without exposing Democratic senators in tight
re-election races to a controversial vote on a budget that would
raise taxes. And it attempts to put the Bowles-Simpson plan,
which he helped craft, back into play for consideration at the
end of this year when a number of major tax breaks expire.
"I know that taking this route will disappoint some,
certainly some on both sides of the aisle," Conrad told
"Some Democrats will be disappointed that there's not
another plan to rally around, and some Republicans will be
disappointed that there's not another plan to attack. But I am
not interested in furthering the political divide. I am focused
on trying to get a positive result for the country," he added.
NO BUDGET NEEDED?
Senate Democrats, including Senate Majority Leader Harry
Reid and Conrad himself, have said for months that a budget
resolution was not necessary because fiscal 2013 spending levels
were already set by legislation to end last year's debt limit
With no real prospects for passage, Conrad's exercise is
more about making a personal statement as his 26-year Senate
career comes to a close, much of it focused on reining in
deficits. The North Dakotan said he also wanted to "provide a
blueprint" for the year-end negotiations on taxes and spending.
Republicans, who have complained that the
Democratic-controlled Senate has not passed a budget resolution
for three years, called the introduction of a budget with no
votes planned for the foreseeable future a "national
"I think there was an uprising and the members did not want
to vote on the tough issues facing America. They wanted to punt,
to avoid, and to hide from responsibility and he was left with
no real support to go forward," said Senator Jeff Sessions, the
top Budget Committee Republican.
The Conrad budget, dubbed "The Fiscal Commission Budget
Plan" would slash discretionary spending as a percentage of the
economy by nearly half, from 8.4 percent of U.S. economic output
last year to 4.8 percent by 2022. It would raise tax revenues
back to levels last seen during the Clinton administration -
when the budget was in surplus for several years - through a tax
reform combination that closes tax loopholes, lowers marginal
rates, raises taxes on capital gains and phases out the tax
exclusion on employer-provided health insurance.
Although it would cut the deficit to a sustainable 2.5
percent of the economy by 2015 and whittle it further in
subsequent years, Conrad's plan faces an uphill battle. The
original Bowles-Simpson plan in 2010 failed to win enough votes
for adoption by President Barack Obama's bipartisan deficit
reduction commission. It drew opposition from several commission
members from both parties because of specific tax hikes and the
loss of specific tax deductions, and cuts to farm subsidies and
Social Security benefits.
And a version of the plan that was offered last month in the
House of Representatives as a bipartisan alternative to the
budget plan from House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan was
crushed in a 382-38 vote.