I got forwarded an e-mail today, an e-mail protesting Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh's "No" vote on the 2010 federal Budget "blueprint." At first I thought it was merely a holdover protest from Bayh's vote against the 2009 budget and that the people sending the e-mail were simply confused.
Surely, I thought, while Bayh could legitimately distance himself from the 2009 budget, a budget crafted under the Bush administration, he wasn't likely to do the same with the 2010 budget, the first budget crafted under the Obama administration.
I was wrong.
Before going into that, a little civics lesson. I'll try not to be too school-marmish.
The federal fiscal year starts in October -- meaning that every federal budget nominally details the spending that the government will do from October of one year through September of the next. This is kind of goofy, I know, for those of us used to fiscal years that start in, say, January (as most household fiscal years do, due to the tax schedule).
"Bayh rejected Bush's 2009 budget, even in a Democrat-worked-over form, on the basis of fiscal irresponsibility. "
A lot of sausage has to be made before October begins -- before spending begins. That sausage-making starts with the president's submission of a budget "blueprint" -- also known as a budget request -- to Congress. By law, the president has to submit his or her request no earlier than the first Monday in January and no later than the first Monday in February of the year in which the budget will take place.
The president's budget request serves as a kind of template to Congress, which has the ultimate authority to craft the actual federal budget. The president's budget request constitutes a wish-list from the president to Congress of how he or she would like the federal budget to look and which values it should reflect.
As should be quite obvious, this is a highly politicized process. If the president is not a member of the party holding the majority of seats in Congress -- such as Bill Clinton was not during most of his term -- then Congress will take the president's request at face value, but not literally.
On the other hand, if the president belongs to the same party as that controlling the majority of Congress, he or she can expect that their budget guidance will be translated with great fidelity into the actual budget -- such as George Bush experienced during most of his term.
Between February and October of a given year, the Congress is supposed to take the president's budget request and use it, modulo the political issues I outlined above, to craft the actual budget, and then enact that budget as law before October rolls around.
That's how it's supposed to happen. And it pretty much does, except when it doesn't.
George Bush transmitted his last budget request to Congress in February 2008. As you may recall, by 2008 Congress was back in control of the Democratic Party, which took Bush's budget request with nary a grain of salt and immediately set out to craft a budget of its own, divorced from Bush's guidance.
"The question is why Bayh, who had been consistent and clear about his objection to the Bush 2009 budget, feels it necessary to grandstand against a very different 2010 budget."
But not before Bayh could issue a press release, scolding the Bush budget guidance for its fiscal irresponsibility. In March 2009, Bayh expressed his dismay with the Bush budget guidance and stated, unequivocally, that he would not vote for it in any shape or form that it might have, even after having the once-over by the Democratic Congress.
And that was okay. Bayh, a central figure among so-called Blue-Dog Democrats, was playing partisan populist politics and, almost exclusively, at the expense of Washington's not-tax-but-spend Republican cabal.
Got it? Bayh rejected Bush's 2009 budget, even in a Democrat-worked-over form, on the basis of fiscal irresponsibility. Which was almost certainly the right thing to do, given that the central thesis of the Bush budget, as it had always been, was to borrow money today -- to be repaid by the next generation tomorrow -- to fund tax rebates to the rich, again today.
But today's e-mail wasn't about Bayh's rejection of Bush's 2009 budget, even as it was worked over by the Democrats. Today's e-mail was about Bayh's rejection of Obama's 2010 budget -- a budget that wouldn't take effect until October 2009.
Of course, Obama's budget is not Bush's budget. It's not a budget crafted to maximize wealth redistribution to the already-wealthy. It's not a budget crafted to hide the true costs of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. It's not a budget so cynical that not even Bush himself ever expected to sign it into law (which is why its adoption was delayed until February of this year -- but that's another story).
"The answers aren't comforting."
It's a budget that reflects the nation's renewed set of priorities, a budget suggested by a president with overwhelming approval rates, a budget that does run a deficit but uses that deficit to stimulate the economy -- as opposed to fund tax rebates for the rich.
So the question is why Bayh, who had been consistent and clear about his objection to the Bush 2009 budget, feels it necessary to grandstand against a very different 2010 budget.
And the answers aren't comforting. Because the answer, as suggested by Occam's razor, is that the answer to "Why?" is political, as opposed to leadership. Bayh is pandering. But not even pandering productively. He's pandering to a shrinking base of irrelevance located within the nexus of the Republican party, also known as "The Party That Wrecked America," because his political instincts tell him that's what he should do.
Which is why we should tell him his political instincts suck.
Gregory Travis can be reached at email@example.com.