Will Democrats Hand Him All the Power?

Chairman of the Senate Budget Committee Kent Conrad (D-ND) evidently won his battle and is hoping to begin budget markup on Wednesday or Thursday.  But there are no plans to include reconciliation instructions — which means every bill in the Senate for the next year will require 60 votes to pass.

Democrats in the House had been pushing to avoid a vote on the budget completely. I guess they assumed that if they simply ignored the country’s problems, everyone else would forget about them too:

Whether to craft a budget has been a point of controversy among congressional Democrats, many of whom will go before the voters in midterm elections this fall. Many lawmakers, particularly in the House, would prefer not to cast a vote either for the big deficits that are forecast for the coming years or for the painful policy alternatives that would be required to narrow the budget gap.

Inexplicably, Democratic leadership have no plans to include budget reconciliation instructions in the budget.  From The Hill:

Democratic leaders and the White House haven’t asked Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) to include reconciliation instructions in his budget resolution draft, Conrad told reporters Monday.

Because the Democrats included student loan reform and health care in the budget reconciliation instruction last year, it allowed them to pass both with 50 Senate votes.  And since the budget reconciliation bill can’t be filibustered, it is a great tool that would allow Democrats to deal with a whole variety of potentially budget related issues over the course of the next year if Republican continue to their pattern of endless obstructionism.

Reconciliation could be used for many purposes, including (but are not limited to):

For example “too big to fail” could probably be dealt with using reconciliation to create a new graduated tax on financial institutions based on size, market share, and/or leverage to make “too big to fail” unprofitable.

With Republicans claiming to have the votes they need to filibuster even debate on finance regulation, Democrats would be foolish to not leave themselves the option of using reconciliation for some form of finance regulations.  If they include none, they won’t even have the threat of reconciliation to hold over them as a tool to break up obstruction

Reconciliation instructions could be included by the House, too.  If they don’t, it will be a powerful affirmative statement by Congressional Democrats to their base that they have zero intention of trying to deliver on any of their many policy promise unless it is something Republicans want to do. It also makes a mockery of the notion that Democrats are actually angry with Republican obstructionism and abuse of the filibuster, because when they had the chance to get rid of the 60 vote barrier on important issues they didn’t use it.

Given the many potential uses for reconciliation, progressives should all pay very close attention to exactly what instructions — if any — are included in the budget.  The earlier the effective date and broader the scope, the better.  A potential reconciliation bill remains the only hope of any meaningful changes this year.  Without reconciliation instructions, it will take the support of Ben Nelson, Joe Lieberman and at least one Republican for anything to pass the Senate for the next year.