Overlooked on the Senate Budget?

I linked earlier today to a good WaPo piece by Rachel Weiner explaining why Senate Democrats haven’t passed a budget resolution — mainly that there was no particular reason to do so, and therefore they were happy to duck tough but meaningless votes on one.

I should add, however, one other point that perhaps really might change things in the 113th Congress: the leadership of the Budget Committee. Retired Chair Kent Conrad was a real rarity in Washington. He actually did care about federal budget deficits. A lot. So much so that he once left the Senate because he had pledge to do so if he didn’t solve federal budget deficits.

And, yes, Conrad did fight for agriculture programs, so he wasn’t a pure budget cutter…but you can be a real deficit cutter even while supporting specific programs, whatever they are; what matters is the bottom line, and Conrad by all accounts really did care about that.

Unfortunately, this put him at odds with pretty much everyone in his party, given that most of them cared a lot less about wheat, and almost all of them cared a lot less about deficits (not to mention that almost all Republicans, whatever they claimed, also cared a lot less about deficits, but that’s not the point here).

Anyway, Conrad is gone, and Patty Murray is now Budget Chair. I don’t really know anything at all about her views on budget deficits, but she almost has to care about them less than Conrad did, and in most things she’s an absolutely mainstream liberal Democratic Senator.

In other words, part of the difficulty in getting a budget resolution done for the Democrats — especially a symbolic one, which was all that was available in the 112th Congress — was that it meant conflict with their own Budget Chair. That should be gone now, and may well be part of why they appear to be far more willing to go through the motions on it.

It’s still purely symbolic; the real negotiations over the current continuing resolution, over the sequester, and over FY 2014 spending and revenues really won’t be affected at all by whether the Senate passes a budget resolution. But to the extent that anyone cares about it, my bet is that the transition from Conrad to Murray makes it a fair bit easier.

[Cross-posted at A plain blog about politics]

Jonathan Bernstein

Jonathan Bernstein is a political scientist who writes about American politics, especially the presidency, Congress, parties, and elections.