Sen. Harry Reid gave up his budgeting responsibilities once President Obama was elected. For the fourth straight year, the Senate majority leader hasn’t bothered with a spending plan, enabling a $5 trillion spree at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. On Wednesday, Republicans are expected to force the issue to a debate and vote on the legally required budgetary blueprint in the upper chamber.
Mr. Reid’s go-to excuse this year has been that the Budget Control Act, which set lower spending levels in exchange for raising the debt ceiling last summer, was good enough to replace an actual budget. The Senate parliamentarian disagreed, and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, insisted that the ruling by the Senate’s procedural referee meant Democrats couldn’t keep the five proposed budgets from being discussed on the floor.
The Senate will debate and vote on GOP alternatives from Sen. Mike Lee of Utah, Sen. Patrick J. Toomey of Pennsylvania and Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, as well as the House-passed budget authored by Rep. Paul Ryan. Mr. Obama’s budget also will be brought up after it failed to receive a single Democratic vote in the House.
Mr. Toomey told The Washington Times, “There is no dispute that our nation is on a completely unsustainable fiscal path, and yet the majority party - the party that has asked to be in charge of the entire federal government - refuses to introduce a budget in the Senate and lay out a vision for how to solve this problem.”
Mr. Lee told us, “Budgets hold Congress accountable for how they spend taxpayer money. We owe that to the American people, and Republicans weren’t willing to walk away from it.”
The three Senate Republican alternatives are more ambitious than the House-passed budget, which balances by 2040. Mr. Lee’s proposal, released last week, would eliminate red ink by 2017, as would Mr. Paul’s. Mr. Toomey’s balances in eight years.
The plans have unique approaches to tackle runaway spending. Mr. Lee would cut outlays by $7.1 trillion over 10 years and cut the entire size of government in half in 25 years. Mr. Toomey would freeze nondefense discretionary spending at 2006 levels until 2020, then index increases for inflation. Mr. Paul would liquidate four Cabinet agencies and is the only one on Capitol Hill proposing to pay down $2 trillion worth of the debt.
On the revenue side, Mr. Lee offers a new tax plan in which individuals pay a flat tax rate (targeted at 25 percent) only on money spent, not saved or invested. To keep the size of government from growing again, revenue would be capped at 18.5 percent of the gross domestic product. Mr. Toomey also would reform taxes to create a flatter, fairer code and then lower current brackets by 20 percent and lower the corporate tax rate to 25 percent.
The Republican senators will have an uphill battle persuading the Democrat-controlled body to pass a sensibly restrained measure. “The Senate GOP plans all balance the budget, address entitlements, reduce spending and simplify the tax code,” Mr. Lee said. “Those are the things we need to enact immediately to put the country on a sustainable path to economic growth.” Following Mr. Reid’s and Mr. Obama’s alternative is the path to further malaise.
Emily Miller is a senior editor for the Opinion pages at The Washington Times.