Discuss as:

Breaking down the budget differences

From NBC's Ken Strickland
The Administration and Senate Democrats are suggesting their budget outlines are in sync in addressing the White House's priorities. This morning, OMB Director Peter Orszag said, "The resolutions may not be identical twins to what the president submitted, but they are certainly brothers that look an awful lot alike." 

In fact, it's more like they have different fathers.

Here's why: While the Senate version is supportive of most of the president's programs, it stops well short endorsing the administration's tactics for enacting them into law.  For example, the Senate budget supports the broad idea of a health-care reserve fund, but it doesn't make "assumptions" about how it will be paid for or even how much it should be.

While the budget itself is a non-binding document, those written assumptions -- in the form of how much to spend on a specified programs -- give Congress clear guidance on how to move forward on things like spending, taxes, and even policy. But because Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad did NOT make concrete recommendations about cost -- which he could have done -- it could be argued that Conrad is rejecting the president's budget. That's half right.

On the other side of the argument, Budget Committee Democrats argue that their budget does not prohibit Congress from following through on the president's plans. At the end of the day, there can still be a $600 billion health-care reserve that's paid for, in part, by reducing itemized deductions. And there could still be a cap-and-trade program that pays for making Obama's tax cuts permanent.

Writing the budget this way does a couple of things. First, it keeps Democrats from backing themselves into a corner, because some of them don't support all of Obama's proposals; this way there's wiggle room for compromise later on other tough issues. And second, by not committing to hard numbers -- numbers in the billions -- Conrad's budget is more fiscally responsible and produces larger deficit reductions.