US's Conrad Defends FY'13 Budget, Hears GOP Skepticism, Scorn
--Senate Budget Chief Defends Decision To Offer Simpson-Bowles Plan
--Conrad: Simpson-Bowles Is 'Best Blueprint' To Forge Bipartisan Deal
--GOP Sen. Sessions: Hammers Dems For 'Abdication of Reponsibility'
--Sen. Session: Dems Have 'Systematic Plan' To Avoid Tough Budget Votes
WASHINGTON (MNI) - Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad Wednesday defended his decision to introduce the Simpson-Bowles deficit reduction plan as his fiscal year 2013 budget resolution, but faced withering attacks from Republicans for his refusal to consider amendments to his package or allow for votes on alternative budgets.
In comments at a meeting of the Senate Budget Committee to consider the FY'13 budget resolution, Conrad said the Simpson-Bowles plan offers a "comprehensive and balanced deficit reduction framework."
"It's not perfect, but it does represent middle ground," Conrad said.
Conrad said the plan represents "the best blueprint to build" a bipartisan consensus for a major deficit reduction package.
It's essential, Conrad said, to "find some way to come together."
Conrad said he hopes that re-introducing the Simpson-Bowles plan will spur serious fiscal talks and serve as the basis for intense budget negotiations over the coming months.
The Simpson-Bowles plan calls for more $5.4 trillion in deficit reduction over a decade, with spending cuts and tax increases. It would reduce spending to about 22% of GDP by 2022 and bring revenues up to about 21% of GDP in 2022.
Conrad said that developing a bipartisan budget agreement will take months of discussions and negotiations which should begin immediately.
"The ground has to be plowed now," Conrad said.
The other Democrats on the Senate Budget Committee praised Conrad for reviving the Simpson-Bowles framework and urging bipartisan negotiations.
But the Republican senators on the committee hurled criticism and scorn on Conrad.
Sen. Jeff Sessions, the top Republican on the Budget Committee, said he is "deeply disappointed" about Conrad's decision not to allow any votes on his budget or any amendments in the Senate Budget Committee's deliberations.
He blasted Senate Democrats for having a "systematic plan ... to avoid votes on budgets" over the past several years.
Sessions said Democrats are guilty of an "abdication of responsibility" on fiscal matters.
Sen. Chuck Grassley, another Republican on the panel, said he is "puzzled" and "confounded" by the Senate Budget Committee's session which did not allow for amendments or alternative budgets.
"This exercise would be humorous if the consequences for this inaction were not so serious," he said.
Sen. Mike Enzi, another GOP senator, said the unusual procedure used by Conrad to discuss but not vote on a budget is disappointing and unproductive.
"This isn't the way legislation is suppose to work," he said, adding that the Budget panel's session will "end today with more talk and no action."
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has said for months that he doesn't expect the full Senate to debate any budget resolution this spring.
Reid has said last year's debt ceiling agreement has already settled discretionary spending levels for the coming fiscal year which is one of the central purposes of a budget resolution.
Budget resolutions set broad spending and revenue goals and make deficit projections. They are congressional blueprints and are not binding law. To actually change spending and tax laws, separate legislation is needed.
Several weeks ago, the House approved House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan's budget resolution on a 228 to 191 vote. All Democrats opposed the GOP budget; all Republicans, except for 10, voted for Ryan's plan.
Ryan has said his budget would cut spending by $5 trillion more than would Obama's budget over a decade and would reduce deficits by $3.3 trillion more than would the president's budget.
Ryan's budget makes deep cuts in the projected growth of federal spending and endorses the fundamental overhaul of Medicare, Medicaid and welfare programs. It also calls for repealing the 2010 health care law.
Ryan's budget backs the extension of Bush-era tax cuts and undertaking fundamental tax reform in which the current six individual rates would be collapsed into two rates, 10% and 25%. The corporate rate would be cut to 25%. He argues that so-called tax expenditures should be sharply curtailed, but does not say which ones should be eliminated or reduced.
Ryan's budget sets FY'13 discretionary spending at $1.028 trillion, $19 billion below the $1.047 trillion that was allowed for in last summer's debt ceiling agreement.
Ryan also calls for enacting a package of spending cuts to prevent the $110 billion in across-the-board spending cuts that are scheduled to begin next January.
** MNI Washington Bureau: (202) 371-2121 **