What about those budget talks?
Last week the White House put Joe Biden in charge of the negotiations over the 2011 budget. He promptly left for an overseas trip, and then Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) took to the airwaves on Sunday to say Democrats wouldn't be offering any more cuts.
So what is going on? Not much, it turns out. A Republican Senate adviser told me, "I think they may be talking to Dems. But there are no meetings scheduled with us."
Instead, the Democrats are staging some votes, which reveal just how unserious the Democrats' position on spending reduction is, as Chris Stirewalt reports:
The Senate today will vote on two proposals to cut spending for the final 28 weeks of the federal fiscal year. The House-passed Republican plan would cut $57 billion. The White House-backed plan from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid would cut $4.7 billion.
Dems originally touted the Obama-Reid as a $6.5 billion cut, but the Congressional Budget Office sheared $1.7 billion off the number Monday, saying that some of the purported reductions were derived from not continuing emergency funding that isn't part of baseline spending. . . The Republican plan would reduce the projected deficit for the current year of $1.65 trillion by about 3.7 percent. The Democratic plan would reduce the deficit by about one half of one percent.
This is reminiscent of the disastrous votes Reid insisted on holding during last year's lame duck session. Rather than showing how stalwart Democrats were, those votes revealed a lack of Democratic support for ending the Bush tax cuts. And they put Red state Democrats in an awkward position. The same is likely true here: Do Senate Democrats facing an electorate skeptical of their fiscal sobriety really want to back Reid's puny cuts?
As the tax votes did, these spending votes could well reveal how weak the Senate's bargaining position really is. And that, in turn, may -- when Biden's schedule permits -- jump-start the budget talks. But we certainly will have a clearer picture of who is determined to re-establish fiscal discipline and who is not.
| March 8, 2011; 10:36 AM ET
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