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D.C. Notebook: Why Obama’s budget is dead on arrival

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Thomas Burr and Matt Canham

By Thomas Burr

The Salt Lake Tribune

First published Mar 09 2014 01:01AM
Updated Mar 9, 2014 01:01AM

Washington •

Thousands of hours of work piled into hundreds of pages, a slew of conference calls and speeches and for what?

President Barack Obama unveiled his budget last week for the upcoming fiscal year, prompting reporters to spend hours digging into the details and members of Congress to issue stock statements on how it’s the worst thing to ever come out of the White House (GOP response) or how this spending plan will help the middle class and lift the poor from despair (Democrats’ talking points).

In the end, though, the budget was delivered to Capitol Hill where it will occupy a forgotten shelf until replaced by the next obsolete-on-publication budget. A bipartisan deal has already set spending caps for the coming 2015 fiscal year, so there’s not much wiggle room nor incentive to hash out a budget. Congress likes to act only in the face of impending crisis.

Oh, the joys of congressional budgeting.

But Obama’s budget does give us a preview of the president’s priorities and that of Democrats headed into the 2014 elections: focusing on the disparity between the 1 percent and the poorest Americans, raising taxes $1 trillion on businesses and the wealthy over a decade and adding a host of new programs aimed at helping everyday working Americans and their kids.

"This budget proposal appears to be a political document, designed to shore up support from the president’s left-leaning base in an election year," Sen. Orrin Hatch said in a Finance Committee hearing last week. "This, needless to say, is disappointing given all the real challenges our nation continues to face."

The president’s budget plan used to matter more. The White House rolled it out, Congress held hearings on why departments wanted X amount of money and then everyone worked out a spending plan that would work for each department. Those were the days.

Congress hasn’t passed a real budget — one with individual measures — since 1997, and in most recent years has relied on just extending the agreements another 12 months.

And you thought kick the can was a kid’s game.

Ye Old Senate • Sen. Mike Lee recently spoke at the five-year anniversary celebration of the tea-party movement, regaling the audience with his tale of joining the Senate where staffers and police officers thought he was an aide instead of a senator. He said at one point, he got reprimanded by a Capitol Police officer for leaning on his desk (which senators are allowed to do, but not staffers).

Lee did say he understood why that was a rule, though.

"Some of these desks are 200 years old, almost as old as some of my colleagues," joked Lee, who was, for a time, the youngest senator. Utah’s Hatch, for the record, is the oldest Republican.

Paul jealous • Sen. Rand Paul quipped at the same event that he doesn’t like to speak after Lee because Paul is still sore over a vote a few years back. Turns out, Lee rounded up 17 votes for his budget plan while Paul scored only 16 votes, which included Lee’s. Apparently, the tea-party senators have a bit of one-upmanship game going on.

Fatherly duties • Rep. Jason Chaffetz missed all the House votes this week, staying in Utah for a good reason: to welcome home his son, Max, who has been serving a two-year mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Max Chaffetz was detailed to Ghana for his mission and returned Wednesday.

Chaffetz said he felt bad not voting but that his fatherly duties were more important this week.

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Burr reports from Washington, D.C. For The Tribune. He can be reached at tburr@sltrib.com or via Twitter @thomaswburr.

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