March 11, 2013
Senate Budget Committee Chair Patty Murray (D-Wash.) (Jewel SamadGetty Images)
Senate Budget Committee Chair Patty Murray (D-Wash.) (Jewel SamadGetty Images)

This week,  Washington will see new budgets from both parties: one from House Budget Committee chairman Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and one from Senate Budget Committee chairwoman Patty Murray. And to judge from the coverage, the two budget proposals are the capital’s next big showdown.

The reality, though, is these budgets mostly constitute a sideshow.

Now, the budget process is not a bad sideshow. It asks Members of Congress and the president to specify exactly what their positions are. That’s a useful part of democracy, although even then what the White House and partisan majorities in the House and Senate choose to stand behind publicly isn’t necessarily what they really want. Similarly, I think attacking (or praising) each party’s budget resolution (and, when we finally get it, Barack Obama’s budget proposals) is totally reasonable, just as commenting on their campaign proposals is reasonable even though we know that it’s what they do after the election that really counts.

Still, the partisan budgets are mostly distractions, as Stan Collender details. During periods of divided government, it’s likely that whatever buidget can pass at all can do so with fairly large majorities, which mostly eliminates the advantages (favorable parliamentary treatment) obtained by using a budget resolution. Therefore, there’s no real reason for the parties to negotiate around their partisan budgets, and in fact no one is expecting they will.

And once again: that’s perfectly fine! Just don’t get too distracted. The important steps now are the next debt limit deadline; the need for new appropriations in the fall; and any potential deal out there to replace the now-implemented sequestration. The partisan budgets? Again: just a sideshow.