There was a sense of the calm before the storm on Capitol Hill yesterday as the House and Senate prepared for this week’s $3.66 trillion budget clash. The Democrat leadership is seeking political cover for their supposedly moderate members, but the size and far left legislative mandates in the budget are causing substantial heartburn for those Democrats.
On Monday, HUMAN EVENTS sat down with Senate Republican Whip Jon Kyl of Arizona to talk about the budget, Democrat positioning, and what tools Republicans have available to try to stop the Democrat spending binge intent on bankrupting American taxpayers.
HUMAN EVENTS: Senator Kyl, on reconciliation — if it’s going to happen, what it’s going to mean, and also the Republican alternative budget coming out of the House. I’ve heard various reports as to whether or not there’s going to be something in the Senate.
SEN. JON KYL (R-Ariz.): In answer to your first question, I think that, as (Budget Committee Chairman) Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) said today, he is legitimately trying to persuade the Democratic leadership not to use reconciliation. At the end of the day, my guess is he will not be successful, though I don’t know that, meaning that in the conference committee they’ll put a form of reconciliation that would then be presented to the Senate on a take it or leave it basis, not filibuster-able, not amendable. Now, they could do it in a variety of ways. They could have a time bomb out there that in effect is reconciliation in the event you don’t agree to something. In the meantime, it doesn’t have to be right away.
HE: Has that ever been done before?
SEN. KYL: My understanding is that reconciliation would be good at least through September — they can make it through a certain date. It’s like a dagger hanging over your head. We make the argument that reconciliation obliterates any opportunity for bi-partisanship. And it does. Reconciliation is you’re simply deciding you’re going to do it your way; mainly, we won the election, we get to write the bill.
HE: “We won.”
SEN. KYL: And you can do that. If you want bipartisanship for these big issues like healthcare and energy, then you don’t use reconciliation. What they could do is pass reconciliation only effective if we can’t reach some grand bipartisan agreement, so they have different ways of going about it.
HE: For the purpose of blaming Republicans for not being able to agree with Democrats so …they were forced to do this?
SEN. KYL: Yes. That would be my guess.
HE: One of the things that bothers me, and I know it bothers boatloads of our readers — they see bipartisanship as almost a comic relief anymore. There’s no attempt at it.
SEN. KYL: Right. You see the difference between their leadership. The Pelosi-Reid-MoveOn.org triangle on the one hand and people like Conrad who has always worked with Republicans, not always productively, but he tries in the spirit of the Senate to work things out sometimes. And those are the two spheres. I don’t know which one is dominant, although you’ve seen the left wing dominate most of what they’ve done. When Kent Conrad or Max Baucus or some of those guys try to do it the old-fashioned way, bringing Republicans on board, they say they don’t want anything to do with that. That will be the question on reconciliation. Now, if they do that, that in effect is the nuclear war. That is saying, okay, there is no more bipartisanship, in which case Republicans still have some tools at our disposal. Unfortunately, they’re not constructive tools.
HE: Can we elaborate on what those tools are? We know you can’t show all of your cards.
SEN. KYL: First of all, there are several things we can do in a purely parliamentary way relating to the reconciliation product. Kent Conrad has identified those publicly, so they’re not a big secret. There are ways to object to what is being proposed, and then there’s the limitation of the product which is constrained by the period of the budget. That’s why all of the Bush tax cuts were expiring at the end of 10 years — we had a 10-year budget then. There are other things at our disposal, too. They are not constructive but they can make life difficult for a partisan leadership on the other side.
HE: Would you hazard a guess as to if the Democrats are just going to say to heck with you guys — are you going to pull out all of the stops, or are you going to hesitate?
SEN. KYL: I would advocate pulling out all of the stops. It takes quite a few of us to pull some of these things off, but, in some cases, it doesn’t require very many at all. I can’t help it if a couple of our members decide to do certain things. I have no control over that. Then we’re down in the mud, and it’d be much more productive if they eschewed the [reconciliation] device in the first place.
HE: And on any Senate alternative budget plans?
SEN. KYL: I have a different view than some of my colleagues, and I know that (Minority Leader Mitch) McConnell has the same view that I do, and that is that producing a budget is the responsibility of the party in power. And they have no right to ask the defeated party to produce a budget. Now, they can say, well, where are your ideas? You’re just the party of ‘no’ — and the response to that I think is as follows: If you insist that we provide an alternative budget, you’re right back in to the partisan politics of Democrat versus Republican, us versus them, our product versus their product which people are tired of. We Republicans acknowledge that you won the elections. You get to start the discussion with your draft, your budget. We get to suggest changes to that. If we produced an entirely separate document in a matter of seconds, they would say, ‘No,’ vote it down, goodbye. Isn’t it more productive to acknowledge that you won, take your product as the draft that we’re working from and seek to make modifications to it? In the Senate, those are called amendments. On the budget we are entitled to offer amendments, and every one of them has to be voted on so that’s the counter to 50 hours of debate. There’s a vote at the end, there’s no filibuster, all amendments will be voted on. And so to me the more constructive, bipartisan approach is okay, you won, you get to write the bill, and we get to offer amendments, and if there is any bipartisanship going on, some of the amendments will pass, some of the amendments will fail, and we try to work together to have a better product. But if you’re insisting that it’s either product A or product B, then we haven’t moved one inch from what the president was complaining about during his campaign.
HE: But isn’t, and forgive me again I don’t mean to be argumentative, but isn’t that over? I mean he has moved away from that, he doesn’t care.
SEN. KYL: Obama talked about bipartisanship. Fine. We’ll meet him halfway.
HE: You’re going to have a Republican alternative presented in the House by Mr. Ryan perhaps Tuesday, maybe Wednesday —
SEN. KYL: Yes.
HE: Is there any thought over here of taking something like that and —
SEN. KYL: We may vote on that or a modified version of it. We may also vote on the Obama budget, by the way, which is not exactly what came out of the Budget Committee.
HE: In the budget and reconciliation process, you were saying there would be 50 hours of debate and a straight up majority vote —
SEN. KYL: No limit on amendments. All amendments get to be voted on —
HE: And is there an opportunity procedurally under the “Byrd rule” for a point of order for the vote on passage — is it depending on the language that comes out of conference?
SEN. KYL: What occurs, if there are reconciliation instructions to the finance committee, for instance, to produce a bill, and the bill comes back from the finance committee creating a new energy tax, at that point there are potential objections that can be raised, including ‘Byrd rule’ objections. The Parliamentarian will have a huge role in writing health and energy policy if they do this under reconciliation, because every one of the judgments is subject to the same question that you asked, and that’s another reason not to do it that way. I hope that Conrad has suggested enough concerns that they will decide against going there. They seem pretty bound and determined to do it that way.
HE: Nearly 40 Democrats have voice[d] public objection to the sheer size and scope of the Obama budget. Is there any real opposition in the Senate?
SEN. KYL: It’s even gotten to the point of eight or nine of them writing a letter expressing some of these concerns. I think this is a heartfelt view expressing some of the concerns of their constituents who were willing certainly to give Obama the benefit of the doubt. I think they’ve come rather quickly though to the view that his spending seems to be very much out of control and, of course, in this budget it is, and they’re beginning to pick this up and it’s worrying people a lot. It is not outside the realm of possibility that you could see some Democrats defect and vote against the budget, but would nine of them not vote for it?
HE: Probably not. Do you think that any one of them would want to be the one that sunk the President’s budget? Doesn’t sound like a good place for a Democrat to be.
SEN. KYL: Remember what Olympia [Snowe] did last year? She made the point that she would vote for the budget, but that she would not vote for the budget if it came back from the conference report with reconciliation. What I suggested in a news conference we had last week was that Democrats ought to think about the same thing. They could vote for the budget but they could also signal to the leadership that if it comes back with reconciliation that they could vote against it and would vote against it.
HE: That could stop the train right there.
SEN. KYL: You’ll see amendments that target each of these areas: healthcare, energy, education loans, the tax increases. You’ll see us vote today and tomorrow, but then we’ll get into this vote-o-rama where there is one minute of debate, and it’s very hard to cover that. You may end up with 50 or 60 or 70 votes. What you’re relegated to is once it’s over with, and we’ve left town, there are the papers on the floor, and you pick them up and say, what did these guys do?