March 1, 2013
Senate Budget Committee Chair Patty Murray (D-Wash.) (Jewel Samad/Getty Images)
Senate Budget Committee Chair Patty Murray (D-Wash.) (Jewel Samad/Getty Images)

Senate Budget Chair Patty Murray (D-Wash.) has a memo out (reported by Brian Beutler) sketching out all the limitations House Republicans have placed on their own forthcoming budget resolution, and what that means for cuts they’ll have to make. Republicans have pledged to balance the budget in ten years without any new revenues, without touching defense and without affecting current Medicare and Social Security recipients or those soon to be eligible. To do so, she writes, they would have to make devastating and politically unpopular cuts to everything else government does.

Or else they’ll resort to gimmicks and phony numbers.

My money is on the gimmicks.

After all, Rep. Paul Ryan’s previous budgets relied heavily on gimmicks, including “magic asterisks” that set revenue and spending goals without giving any indication of how to get there. This led to Ryan and the Republicans denying any specific budget cuts that anyone accused them of, while at the same time claiming the deficit-reducing effects of their overall goals.

Remember, there are no real rules about budget resolutions — they can be as detailed, or as vague, as the authors want. After all, budget resolutions are only instructions from Congress to itself; they’re not law. And while it’s certainly possible that the House and Senate will try to reconcile their budgets, it’s probably more likely that each chamber will pass its own resolution and then move on to more productive fights; if there is some sort of deal between the parties this year, there’s no particular reason it has to be done in the context of the budget resolution.

In other words, it’s highly unlikely that Ryan and House Republicans will have actual working numbers in their budget resolution. To fit the pledges that Murray correctly notes have boxed them in, they’ll use phony numbers — improbable economic growth estimates, bizarre tax effects, vague spending assertions. There’s not too much that’s predictable in this year’s budget wars, but this is one very safe bet.