Senate Democrats might be a little foggy on the budget process, since they haven’t passed one in so many years. Most importantly, they have never had to make clear what their priorities are, and what their own economic agenda entails. It is a bit of a mystery as to how the party will play this.
Here are six critical questions for them:
1. Are they going to vote to raise taxes again, and how much? At some point voting for higher taxes becomes very problematic for senators in unsafe seats facing re-election, as well as for blue state senators whose constituents may have high incomes but don’t consider themselves “rich.”
2. When — if ever — would they balance the budget? The House says it will do so in ten years. Would the Senate’s budgeting scheme ever get us to a balanced budget?
3. Will they join Obama in avoiding entitlement reform? Many Senate Democrats have tried to introduce Medicare reforms or backed bipartisan attempts to do so. If they don’t touch Medicare or other entitlements they are either going to have to have huge tax hikes or accept gaping deficits for a very long time.
4. Will they really decimate defense? Secretary of State Hillary Clinton just testified yesterday about the growing al-Qaeda menace in North Africa. Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) declared today, “I repeat here today: Our policy is not containment. It is prevention, and the clock is ticking on our efforts to secure responsible compliance.” Given those threats will Democrats been seen as the people unserious about national security and responsible for hollowing out the military?
5. Are they going to cede populism to the GOP? Republicans will be going after corporate welfare, green job cronyism and the host of tax “expenditures” the White House stuck into the fiscal cliff deal. Many Republicans are threatening to go after the big banks by breaking them up and/or taking away the Dodd-Frank slush fund. Democrats will have to decide whether to anger New York Sen. Chuck Schumer’s big Wall Street donors or to be seen as the party of big business.
6. Will the Senate buy into Obama’s domestic spending priorities? President Obama’s ideas — be it gun control, education, healthcare, etc. — all involve more and more domestic spending. That’s fine for liberal senators, but don’t red-state Democratic Sens. Mary Landrieu, Kay Hagan and others have to show some independence from the president’s tax-borrow-and-spend agenda?