Senate committee to draft budget this week

By Lori Montgomery
Monday, April 19, 2010; 3:22 PM

The Senate Budget Committee will meet Wednesday and Thursday to draft a spending plan for the coming fiscal year, committee aides said Monday.

Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) has pledged to produce a blueprint that would cut the federal deficit to 3 percent of the economy by 2015, a move that would require him to slice more than $200 billion off the president's deficit forecast for that year, according to estimates by the Congressional Budget Office. Such a reduction would require Conrad to propose significantly higher revenues or lower spending than Obama assumes. Conrad has so far declined to say how he plans to accomplish that goal; he is likely to make his budget plan public when the committee convenes Wednesday.

Whether to craft a budget has been a point of controversy among congressional Democrats, many of whom will go before the voters in midterm elections this fall. Many lawmakers, particularly in the House, would prefer not to cast a vote either for the big deficits that are forecast for the coming years or for the painful policy alternatives that would be required to narrow the budget gap. If House leaders are unable to muster the votes for a spending plan, it would be the first time the House failed to approve a budget blueprint since modern budget rules were adopted in 1974. The Senate failed to adopt a budget plan in 2002. And Congress as a whole failed to approve a final budget plan four times, in 1998, 2002, 2004 and 2006 -- all election years.

The politics are easier in the Senate, where only a third of the membership faces reelection this year. Conrad has said that he has "the green light" to bring a budget plan to the Senate floor in the coming weeks.

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