- The Washington Times - Monday, March 18, 2013

As the budget debate begins in earnest in Congress this week, President Obama and Senate Republicans have something in common — neither of them has produced a federal budget yet this year.

There are blueprints from Senate Democrats and House Republicans, and on Monday House Democrats announced their own alternative. Likewise the House Republican Study Committee, the Congressional Black Caucus and the Congressional Progressive Caucus. But Mr. Obama and Senate Republicans have yet to offer up their own entries.

The SenateGOP said it probably won’t write a budget at all, preferring instead to stand behind the House Republicans’ version, while the White House has promised its blueprint in April — two months after the legal deadline.

“It’s never been this late since the modern budget act has been in place since 1974,” Rep. Paul Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee, said of Mr. Obama’s delay. “We’ve gone from the Senate stepping up and honoring its responsibility to the president not honoring his responsibilities to submit a budget, so we’re still two-for-three.”

Budgets don’t become law and generally are more vision statements than hard-and-fast rules for taxes and spending. That’s one reason the government has been able to operate for the past three years even though Congress hasn’t approved a budget since 2009, and Senate Democrats haven’t written one in two years.

But spending plans provide plenty of fodder for political attacks, and not writing one is seen as tantamount to dereliction of duty.

Republicans have routinely blasted Senate Democrats for not having a budget. Indeed, it has been 1,419 days since the Senate last adopted a blueprint, Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, the second-ranking Republican, reminded colleagues on the chamber floor Monday.

Of the major alternatives that will be offered, House Republicans’ bill would put the government in surplus in 10 years by relying on major domestic spending cuts while rejecting any new tax revenues.

The House Democrats’ version, which would take three decades to get to balance, cuts defense and health entitlements and relies chiefly on $1.2 trillion in new taxes. It also includes $200 billion in stimulus spending.

“We first and foremost are focused on putting Americans back to work,” said Rep. Chris Van Hollen, the ranking Democrat on the House Budget Committee who briefed reporters on the plan Monday.

Senate Democrats’ plan, which passed out of committee last week, is similar, with $1 trillion in tax increases and $100 billion in stimulus spending — though no balance within the 10-year budget window.

For fiscal 2014 — the upcoming year — the HouseGOP says its budget would leave a deficit of $528 billion, the House Democrats’ plan calls for $782 billion in red ink, and the Senate Democrats’ version is in between, leaving a $693 billion.

Each of those is an improvement over this year’s projected deficit of $845 billion.

Senate Republicans said that they didn’t offer their own budget because they couldn’t muster the votes to pass it through the chamber.

“I do not plan to offer a Republican budget. We don’t have the votes to do that,” Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, ranking Republican on the Budget Committee, told reporters.

Mr. Cornyn said they will instead piggyback on Mr. Ryan’s blueprint from the House, which will be offered as an alternative in the Senate.

“I think we’re happy to vote on the House budget, and it will receive overwhelming support,” he said.

Republicans will also likely offer a series of amendments designed to rewrite Democrats’ plan.

In previous years, some individual Republican senators have offered their own full budgets.

Budget plans in 2011 and 2012 by Sen. Patrick J. Toomey, Pennsylvania Republican, actually won more support than any other option, including topping Mr. Ryan’s budgets in both of those years. But he won’t be offering a budget this year, his office said.

Sen. Rand Paul, Kentucky Republican, offered budgets that drew scant support in both 2011 and 2012. His office didn’t return messages seeking comment on his plans this year.

There is no legal requirement for a minority party to offer a budget, but federal law does call for the White House to submit a blueprint by the first week of February.

This year Mr. Obama will miss that deadline by about two months, sending his budget to Congress on April 8, or well after both the House and Senate have finished their work. Each chamber expects to pass its budget by the end of this week.

Submitting his budget later could be a strategic decision by Mr. Obama, who could offer a middle-ground proposal in between the HouseGOP and Senate Democrats’ versions.

But it may also be a way of avoiding an embarrassing defeat. In both 2011 and 2012, versions of Mr. Obama’s budget were offered by Republicans in both the House and Senate, and each budget was defeated by unanimous vote.

This year, without an Obama budget to offer, Republicans were left scrambling with how to make sure the president is represented in the upcoming debate.

Rep. Mick Mulvaney, South Carolina Republican, came up with a pointed answer: He submitted a budget full of question marks, calling it the president’s budget.