Is a bill that gets unanimously rejected by every single member of the United States Senate, even when the Senate is controlled by the party of the person who proposed the bill, a serious proposal?
According to Washington Post writer EJ Dionne, yes, it is. Or at least, it is when the person who proposed that bill is the current president of the United States, Barack Obama. Dionne made that argument on Meet The Press yesterday, describing President Obama's budget plan - a budget plan which Dionne's co-panelist, Tea Party darling Ted Cruz, hastily pointed out was unable to get even a single Democratic vote.
"President Obama put a plan on the table that would balance the budget in twelve years, which is quicker than the Ryan budget," Dionne sniffed on the panel. "I'm a liberal. I didn't even agree with everything that was in that plan. But this notion that this president hasn't put down budget proposals. He tried to reach a deal with John Boehner and that deal fell through, but he was willing to put a lot on the table."
"How many votes did that plan get?" Cruz asked.
"That is a side issue," Dionne responded.
"It got zero votes," Cruz said incredulously. "Not a Democrat in the Senate voted for it. Not a one."
"Yes, because the vote was put up there as a political matter," Dionne huffed. "The fact is it was a serious plan and serious budgets get voted on."
"It got zero votes in the Senate," Cruz fired back. "That's not a serious plan."
Watch the exchange here, courtesy of Newsbusters:
Newsbusters' Noel Sheppard argues that Dionne's defense of Obama's policy is motivated solely by partisanship. This is possible, but there may be something to the argument that under normal circumstances an unserious piece of legislation couldn't get voted on. Unanimous rejection by both parties in the United States Senate is not something you see often when it comes to legislation, largely because bills that would face unanimous rejection wouldn't make it out of committee under normal circumstances.
However, when a piece of legislation is the plan advanced and owned by the president of the United States, one could easily argue that circumstances are hardly normal, a fact which Dionne seems to acknowledge in the exchange when he describes the vote as a "political matter."
But procedural points aside, was the budget's substance actually serious? Cruz and Dionne clearly disagreed on this point, as do other observers, but the Economist Magazine didn't seem to think the seriousness was there. In fact, they called the budget "Unseriously unfair":
The widely-admired Scandinavian countries collect a much larger portion of GDP in taxes not because their top earners bear a relatively larger tax burden than do America's top earners, but because they don't. The president's confusion on this matter was evident in his open admission that "I agreed to extend the tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans because it was the only way I could prevent a tax hike on middle-class Americans". But without a tax hike on middle-class Americans, there's simply no hope for serious deficit reduction. That is, there's no hope as long as Mr Obama insists on cutting spending with a "scalpel" and "not a machete". Were he really serious about deficit-reduction, Mr Obama would have let all the Bush tax cuts expire.
In the absence of middle-class tax increases, or cuts in military spending much larger than Mr Obama proposed, the only realistic hope for putting America's finances back on a sound footing is the structural overhaul of the big entitlement programmes. There's a lot to criticise in Paul Ryan's plan, but at least he grasped this nettle.
That is a fairly devastating indictment, from a generally nonpartisan foreign magazine. And it may explain why not even the Senate's most partisan Democrats could bring themselves to vote for the bill.