Why can't Senator Reid be forced to submit a budget?
It's the law of the land that the Senate must submit a budget by April 15, but the last time Harry Reid was in compliance was 2009.
Why isn't Reid being punished for being a budget scofflaw?
The answer is the law requiring Congress to pass an annual budget, the Congressional Budget Act of 1974, doesn't have an enforcement mechanism. Lawmakers are required by law to pass a budget each year by April 15, but there's no provision to punish them, or even slightly inconvenience them, if they don't. In Reid's case, the Senate last passed a budget in April 2009, 1,351 days ago as of Wednesday.
"The law doesn't have teeth," says a Senate aide involved in the fight. "Sen. Sessions and others have proposed process reforms to give the budget law teeth (one reform would make it harder to pass spending bills without a budget), but the debt ceiling is the strongest leverage we have on this. This is the opportunity."
In other words, it is precisely because the budget law has no enforcement provision that Republicans believe they need some other form of leverage, in this case the debt ceiling deadline, to force Reid and his fellow Democrats to move. In addition, whatever happens in the debt ceiling standoff, it seems clear that the original budget law should be amended to include some sort of enforcement method.
Meanwhile, the White House responded to the Republican proposal for the first time Tuesday, and the response was: forget about it. "Congress - the Senate, the House - should act to raise the debt ceiling," spokesman Jay Carney said. "This is not...a negotiation the White House is going to have. It is Congress's responsibility to ensure that the bills Congress racked up are paid."
While it would be emotionally satisfying to see Harry Reid frog-marched out of the Senate chamber and straight to jail for arrogantly ignoring the law, this isn't going to happen - and neither is a budget plan coming from the Democrats in the Senate.
The plan is simple: Hide the massive increase in government spending by passing Continuing Resolutions rather than an overall budget. It is also to the advantage of President Obama for the Senate not to pass a budget, largely for the same reason.
Obama is desperate not to negotiate with Republicans because the debt ceiling is the only leverage they have. He is telling the GOP to sit down and shut up about spending cuts and let him get on with the business of spending all that revenue he just raised in the cliff deal. Can Republicans sell the American public on their stance that spending needs to be pared back to sustainable levels? We shouldn't be optimistic, given their track record.
And that's what the Democrats are counting on.