Senate Unanimously Rejects A Budget Offered By Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) [UPDATE]

I have given this post the headline "Senate Unanimously Rejects A Budget Offered By Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.)" at the suggestion of Michael Brendan Dougherty of Business Insider, who correctly notes that the news cycle is going to remember this bit of legislative maneuvering very differently, and characterize it as a defeat for some "Obama Budget." As Dougherty correctly reports:

Just as they did in March in the House of Representatives, Republicans forced a vote on a bill that was supposed to resemble the president's budget, but wasn't actually the president's budget. A Republican Senator submitted it, and called for the vote.

This vote, on a Potemkin "Obama Budget," is not intended to be taken seriously. It's a stunt designed to get a slag into the newscycle, and they tend to work. What happens is a Republican legislator presents a "budget proposal" that's designed to be a satirical presentation of an "Obama budget." Democrats don't vote for it, because they recognize that it bears no resemblance to their budgetary preferences. Back in March, it was Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.) who got the Harlequin role in this bit of legislative commedia dell'arte. As Dave Weigel reported at the time, Mulvaney presented the pretend Obama budget with a knowing wink:

"It's not a gimmick unless what the President sent us is the same," Mulvaney snarked. "We are voting on the President's budget. I would encourage the Democrats to embrace this landmark Democrat document and support it." (Calling a Democratic effort a "Democrat" effort is a minor swipe.)

As House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi succinctly explained at the time, "It was a caricature of the president's budget, so we voted against it."

This is all stuff that should be pretty easy for adults to penetrate and demystify. But how many times are we going to hear about the "Obama budget's" ignominious defeat in the Senate on this weekend's Sunday talk shows? I'm going to guess: "many times."

UPDATE, 7:53pm: As you might imagine, those on the other side counter this interpretation. Sessions, from the floor today, offered, “If any senator wants to come forward and show any number that we put there that’s different than the President’s numbers when he laid out his budget, then I’d like to see it. Maybe we could correct it, but I don’t think there’s an error.”

And indeed, the "budget" that was presented was derived from the figures and appropriations pulled from a narrative form of the budget. What Sessions introduced today made a glancing reference to this in the text of the bill: "setting forth the President’s budget request for the United States Government for fiscal year 2013, and setting forth the appropriate budgetary levels for fiscal years 2014 through 2022.”

Finally, here's a quote we received from Sessions' communication director, Stephen Miller:

“The White House is understandably desperate to minimize the astonishing repudiation of the President’s financial vision. What the Senate voted on today was not an interpretation of the President’s budget; it was the President’s budget, introduced in the required form of a budget resolution and in keeping with the Congressional Budget Act. An open offer was extended to Senate Democrats to change anything they felt was not right in what we presented—no takers. Is the White House really suggesting that their budget has support in the Senate, just in some different form? Have they forgotten that the reason it fell on the GOP to offer up the President’s budget is because both House and Senate Democrats were unwilling to do so in the first place? If the White House believed their own spin, then they would have sent up a version of their budget in legislative form months ago and asked Leader Reid to put it to vote. They didn’t and they won’t, so we did.”

Over what I'm sure will be Stephens' objection, I'm going to stand by my earlier interpretation that what was introduced today was a parody version of the President's budget, and reiterate that the Democratic Senators (like their House colleagues in March) voted it down for precisely this reason -- not because they have a vehement objection to the President's budgetary priorities. Backstage, everyone knows why the Democrats voted the way they did, the rest of this is a performance for public consumption.

But if you want to divine what another famous character of the stage termed the "method in the madness," look at the latter half of Stephens' statement, and the complaint that the Democrats have not put forth a budget. That's fair, but it invites a trip into the weeds. There are reasons why the Democrats haven't done so: 1) they know that any real "Obama budget" is a legislative nonstarter in the current climate of obstruction, and 2) the Democrats hold that the conditions created by the Budget Control Act are their de facto budget. This does not cover the lack of a budget in 2010 and 2011 -- those didn't happen because of the aforementioned obstruction, and some off-year election Democratic Party theories that failed votes would be more costly at the polls than no vote at all. (The results of the 2010 elections suggest that this was, perhaps, too clever by half.)

All of this constitutes a complicated set of arguments that's difficult to put into soundbite form and invites blowback. What's the simpler way to raise the complaint on a regular basis? Stage a budget stunt!

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