At Tuesday evening’s press conference, Jake Tapper, Senior White House Correspondent at ABC News, asked the President:
Q: Thank you, Mr. President. Right now on Capitol Hill Senate Democrats are writing a budget and, according to press accounts and their own statements, they’re not including the middle-class tax cut that you include in the stimulus; they’re talking about phasing that out. They’re not including the cap and trade that you have in your budget, and they’re not including other measures. I know when you outlined your four priorities over the weekend, a number of these things were not in there. Will you sign a budget if it does not contain a middle-class tax cut, does not contain cap and trade?
This question makes no sense.
Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-ND) is doing what every budget committee chairman does at this time of year: he is drafting the Senate budget resolution, and he is getting his committee to “mark it up” — amend and vote on it. His House counterpart, Chairman John Spratt (D-SC), is doing the same in the House.
A budget resolution is a concurrent resolution. When it has passed the House and Senate in identical form, it takes effect and binds House and Senate action throughout the year.
A concurrent resolution never goes to the President for a signature or veto. It is a tool the Congress uses to manage itself. Yes, the concurrent resolution sometimes uses the substance of the President’s budget proposal as a starting point, and so Mr. Tapper’s substantive point that Senate Democrats appear to be ignoring some of the President’s top priorities is an important one.
But asking the President whether he would “sign a budget” has no meaning. The President never faces that choice. Later in the year, he may face various bills that do or don’t contain his spending and tax priorities, but those aren’t “a budget,” and they’re not what House and Senate Democrats are working on now.
Mr. Tapper pressed his question in a follow-up:
Q: So is that a “yes,” sir? You’re willing to sign a budget that doesn’t have those two provisions?
Everyone makes mistakes, but he had all day to prepare this question. To his credit, the President did not make the same mistake as Mr. Tapper.
The White House press corps holds the President to an extremely high standard, and hammers him if he misspeaks. I hope that similarly rigorous treatment, applied to the press corps, can elevate our public policy debate.