Senate Democrats are set to release a budget this week, the first time they've done so since 2009. As always, it will be a collection of the party's goals and priorities—more a political statement than a plan for governing. Democrats, according to National Journal, will propose new revenue beyond the fiscal-cliff deal as well as new spending on education, infrastructure, and job training.
They will look for ways to undo sequestration, and offer instructions for tax reform. And while they'll look for entitlement savings, they won't go as far as the White House in adjusting Social Security or Medicare, for reasons political—they don't want to give ammunition to Republicans—and substantive—Democrats, including Senate Budget Committee chair Patty Murray, don't want to see large cuts to entitlement programs.
Republicans are already gearing up to oppose the plan. "I fear the Democrat proposal will fail this defining test and will never achieve balance. I fear it will crush American workers and our economy with trillions in new taxes, spending and debt," said Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions, the ranking Republican member of the Budget Committee. He calls balancing the budget and reducing the debt the "great challenge of our time," and blames spending for stagnant wages and a sluggish recovery.
Of course, this is nonsense. There's wide agreement from economists that demand—or the lack thereof—is the key problem facing the economy. The economy needs government spending, and attempts to reduce the deficit—or balance the budget—are bound to hinder progress on growth and joblessness.
With that said, Democrats are right to avoid major entitlement cuts in their budget. Far from creating the space for compromise or action, a detailed proposal to trim entitlements will inspire Republicans to demand even more in negotiations. The last two-and-a-half years of policymaking are instructive here.
With the 2010 elections, Republicans won a tremendous amount of influence over economic policymaking. In fact, you can make a fair case that they've had more influence than anyone else on the direction of the U.S. economy for the last few years. To wit, since Republicans took control of the House of Representatives, Democrats have agreed to trillions in deficit reduction—when you include the sequester, it's enough to stabilize the debt over the next decade. What's more, in its attempts to win a deficit-reduction deal with Republicans, the White House has floated cuts to Social Security benefits and Medicare spending in exchange for new revenue or higher taxes—and congressional Democrats have been willing to accept them.
Even still, Republicans refuse to compromise or give any leeway to Democrats. In the Senate, they continue to block nominees for judicial and executive branch positions, and in the House, they maintain their absolute opposition to new revenue. As Talking Points Memo reports, they are working on a new budget that's even more right-wing than the one crafted by Wisconsin representative Paul Ryan: It calls for a balanced budget within ten years with no new revenue for the federal government.
Given an opposition with little interest in anything other than total victory, there's no reason for Democrats to move the ball on entitlement cuts and in the GOP's direction—they'll just demand more, and offer nothing in exchange.