Old GOP position on budget procedures: Nothing is more important than following the proper formal procedures.

New GOP position: No point in going through pointless procedural checkpoints if it’s not going to produce actual policy change.

The new position is the right one.

Brian Beutler has the excellent reporting on this. For years now Republicans have considered it a conversation-ender that Democrats in the Senate had not passed a budget resolution. When it was pointed out that the Budget Control Act that ended the debt limit showdown was actually far more important than a budget resolution, which does not have the force of law, Republicans simply repeated that the Senate hadn’t passed a budget resolution.

Yet now that the Senate has passed a budget resolution, John Boehner and the House are refusing to take the next step and appoint conferees so that the House and Senate can move toward a final Congressional budget resolution. Why? Well, the real reason is the same as the reason that Senate Democrats didn’t pass a budget resolution for several years: It might require some tough votes without any promise of substantive gains (see Beutler for the details).

These kinds of violations are legislative (or, as in the late budget from Barack Obama this year, executive) misdemeanors at best. It’s closer to a felony when a party gives up substantive policy goals to avoid tough votes. But for procedural niceties? On balance, and in the abstract, it’s nice to have congressional parties so confident of their own positions that they are willing to cast tough votes on them. Realistically, those tough votes will be designed by their opponents not to demonstrate real policy differences but to maximize embarrassment. When that’s the case, it’s hard to get worked up about the majority ducking votes that have no substantive effect.

So, yeah, if John Boehner would rather take the hit for not going to conference instead of the hits that going to conference would entail, that seems reasonable to me. Just as it was reasonable for Senate Democrats to take duck a budget resolution because of the hits it would have brought them.

And anyone who really cares about substance should just ignore all of it and focus on the real issues — taxes, specific spending numbers on specific programs — that divide the parties. That’s where the real action is and has been all along.