For all the talk about President Obama coming up short when reaching out to congressional Republicans, we’re occasionally reminded who’s ultimately to blame for the partisan dysfunction in the nation’s capital.
Today, for example, the White House will unveil its final budget blueprint to Congress, and while the public at large probably won’t find this particularly noteworthy, these documents are routinely pretty interesting. Obama’s latest budget plan, for example, includes all kinds of innovative ideas on infrastructure, opioid abuse, and even a “moonshot” on cancer research.
They’re the kind of ideas that would be the start of an important budget debate with Congress. Except, as the New York Times reports, Republican lawmakers have announced they’re not even willing to have this conversation: they don’t know what’s in the administration’s budget plan, and they don’t care
Breaking with a 41-year-old tradition, the Republican chairmen of the House and Senate budget committees announced that they would not even give the president’s budget director, Shaun Donovan, the usual hearings in their panels this week.G. William Hoagland, who was the Republican staff director at the Senate Budget Committee for much of the 1980s and 1990s, and is senior vice president of the Bipartisan Policy Center, said he could not recall a year since the modern budget process took effect in the 1970s when a president’s budget director was not invited to testify before the budget committees.
Hoagland told the Times, “While the last budget of an outgoing president is usually aspirational, and sets a theme for what he or she hopes will be followed up by his or her successor, it nonetheless should be reviewed by the Congress.”
And ordinarily, it would be. For decades, once a White House unveils a federal budget plan, the House and Senate Budget Committee schedule hearings with the president’s budget director. It’s just how the process has worked, regardless of which party has power at the time. In plenty of instances, these hearings have offered lawmakers a chance to press administration officials on the parts of the budget they disagree with.
But this year, GOP committee chairmen have decided not to bother. They just don’t care.
At a press briefing on Friday, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters:
“I guess the future is pretty dim if you have Republicans in Congress unwilling to even talk about the budget with the White House. We do see that Republicans are pretty eager to leap to the defense of the oil industry, but they aren’t really willing to have a serious, detailed conversation about our country’s budget priorities.“It says a lot of things, I think. It certainly does raise some questions about how serious Republicans actually are about governing the country. It also raises some questions about how confident they are in the kinds of arguments that they could make about the budget. Maybe they’re taking the Donald Trump approach to debates about the budget – they’re just not going to show up.”
Every Democrat on the Senate Budget Committee wrote to Republican Chairman Mike Enzi yesterday, expressing “dismay” over his refusal to even talk to the White House. They reminded Enzi, “This is the first time in the Budget Committee’s history that no such hearing has taken place.”
Dems on the House Budget Committee wrote a similar letter to Republican Chairman Tom Price, calling his actions “disrespectful to the committee members, the public and the president.”
For their part, Republicans have made no credible effort to defend the move, only issuing a statement describing the White House’s economic agenda – the agenda that lowered the unemployment rate from 10% to 4.9%, ended the Great Recession, and cut the deficit by $1 trillion – as being filled with “failed policies.”
I realize there are lazy Beltway pundits who remain convinced that bipartisan cooperation is impossible because “Obama won’t lead,” but stories like these serve as a timely reminder that those pundits are mistaken.