Democratic lawmakers say midterms may obstruct budget resolution

By Lori Montgomery
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 13, 2010; 6:52 PM

Congressional Democrats say they may be unable to approve a budget plan this year because many lawmakers are unwilling in the run-up to the November midterm elections to ratify a spending blueprint that is certain to include large deficits.

Speaking to reporters Tuesday, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) acknowledged those fears. Though a budget resolution is "important," Hoyer said, "it is difficult to pass budgets in election years because, you know, they reflect what is the status. And the status of this country was brought into deep debt by the economic policies of the Bush administration."

Hoyer said that "working on a budget remains something that we are going to do." But, he said, "we will see whether we have the votes to pass it."

Since modern budget rules were adopted in 1974, Congress has failed to approve a budget resolution only four times -- in 1998, 2002, 2004 and 2006. Three of them were in midterm election years. Even in those years, however, the House approved its own version of the nonbinding resolution, which sets spending levels for the coming fiscal year.

Republicans quickly accused Democrats of shirking their duties.

"The deficit was over $65 billion in March, and the [Democratic] solution is to abandon their responsibilities by throwing the federal budget out the window. A real profile in courage, isn't it?" said Brad Dayspring, a spokesman for House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.).

The Democratic leaders of the House and Senate budget committees insisted Tuesday that they are forging ahead with budget plans, building off the $3.8 trillion spending request President Obama sent to Capitol Hill in February. That document assumes the annual deficit will approach $1.3 trillion in the fiscal year that begins in October, come down slightly as the economy recovers, then begin to rise again as the bulk of the baby-boom generation makes claims on federal retirement programs. Acknowledging that the budget trajectory is unsustainable, Obama has named a special commission to propose additional ways to reduce deficits.

In the House, leaders hope to improve on Obama's deficit figures if they do advance a budget blueprint. Aides said that House leaders hope to decide by mid-May whether to move forward or abandon the effort. Senate leaders, meanwhile, said they are more likely to push a spending plan through that chamber before the Memorial Day recess.

"I think it is very important to have a budget blueprint to outline priorities where the country is going to spend its money, how we're going to bring the deficit down," Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) told reporters Tuesday. His committee, he said, will begin to publicly assemble a budget "in the next several weeks."

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