PoliGraph: Partly right, but Bills’ budget claims could use some context

Rep. Kurt Bills, the Republican-endorsed candidate to challenge incumbent DFL Sen. Amy Klobuchar for the U.S. Senate, is making the nation’s debt and deficit a big part of his party platform.

On several occasions, he’s called out Klobuchar for not doing much on federal spending.

Take, for instance, a line from a press release his campaign sent the day Klobuchar won the DFL endorsement for re-election.

“The United States Senate has failed to pass a budget in more than three years. Klobuchar has produced no specific plans to address annual deficits or national debt,” the press release read.

Part of this claim is true, part is misleading.

The Evidence

When Congress passes a budget resolution, it’s not law. Rather, it’s a framework that outlines revenue and spending; specific spending decisions are made by the appropriations committees.

Congress doesn’t grind to a halt if it fails to adopt a budget resolution; both chambers can debate and approve appropriations spending bills regardless.

But as House Republican Budget Chairman Paul Ryan said in a 2011 press release, “The United States Congress has a moral — and legal — obligation to propose and pass budgets that tackle our generation’s greatest challenge.”

The last time the Senate passed a budget resolution was April 29, 2009 for fiscal year 2010.

Some argue that the 2011 Budget Control Act, a bill Klobuchar supported that raised the debt ceiling and cut federal spending by more than $2 trillion, is effectively a budget resolution – and that it’s even better because it’s enforceable by law.

But generally speaking, Bills is correct: the Senate hasn’t passed a budget in three years.

The second part of Bills’ claim that Klobuchar has produced “no specific plans” to address the deficit or debt is trickier to sort out. During a recent press conference, Bills pointed to a budget proposal put forth by Sen. Rand Paul, R-KY, that Bills says he will be running on as well.

“A big part of today is for saying, here’s where I think we should start and now we should have a dialog,” Bills said. “So I hope that there is a plan that comes forward from the other side. In a dream world, Sen. Klobuchar would have her plan now.”

It’s true that Klobuchar hasn’t issued a point-by-point budget proposal as Paul has. Though there’s nothing barring Klobuchar from publishing her own proposal as legislation or as part of her campaign, Washington, D.C., budget expert Stan Collender said it’s not something that freshmen Senators like Klobuchar typically do; that’s the job of the budget chairman.

“It would be a waste of time and staff resources, and it would be for show and not serious,” because it’s unlikely such a plan would get any attention in the Senate, Collender said. “She is not one of the people who would be responsible for making that happen.”

It would also be unfair to say that Klobuchar isn’t concerned about the debt and deficit. For instance, in 2010, she withheld her vote to raise the debt ceiling until President Barack Obama agreed to establish the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, the bipartisan group of budget experts who put together the Bowles-Simpson plan, a proposal that encourages tax increases and spending cuts.

Klobuchar campaign spokesman Ben Garmisa pointed out that she supported the Budget Control Act, too.

“Senator Klobuchar voted for the bipartisan Budget Control Act, which will reduce the debt by $2.1 trillion over 10 years and goes further than a traditional budget because it has the force of law,” he said.

Klobuchar also meets monthly with a group of 45 senators who are trying to build on the Bowles-Simpson plan, though the group has not produced legislation.

And Klobuchar has also said she supports a mix of revenue increases and spending cuts. She has mentioned closing tax loopholes, allowing the government to negotiate drug prices under Medicare, keeping Bush tax cuts in place for the middle class, and cutting some defense and agriculture spending among other ways to shrink the deficit.

The Verdict

Though some would argue that the debt ceiling deal is effectively a budget, Bills is basically correct on his first point: the U.S. Senate has not passed a budget resolution in three years.

The second part of Bills’ claim about Klobuchar’s debt and deficit record is thornier. He’s right that she hasn’t authored a plan as her colleague Paul has. And Klobuchar’s support for various debt and deficit proposals is different than issuing a concrete plan.

However, Bills claim implies that Klobuchar hasn’t been active on debt and deficit issues when, in fact, she has. Further, Bills hasn’t released his own budget plan, either. Rather, he’s said he’s running on Rand Paul’s. For leaving out context, this part of Bills claim is misleading.


Kurt Bills for Senate, Kurt Bills on Klobuchar Receiving the Democratic Party Endorsement, June 2, 2012

Congressional Research Service, Congressional Budget Resolutions: Historical Information, March 13, 2012

THOMAS, S.CON.RES.13: FY 2010 Budget, approved April 29, 2009

Sen. Rand Paul, The Platform to Revitalize America, March 8, 2012

Politico, Wrestling with debt-ceiling strategy, by Manu Raju and Jonathan Allen, April 12, 2011

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Jobs and Economy, accessed June 5, 2012

Mike Osskopp, spokesman, Kurt Bills for Senate, June 5, 2012

Ben Garmisa, spokesman, Amy Klobuchar for Senate, June 6, 2012

Stan Collender, Qorvis Communications, June 6, 2012

  • Ralph Crammedin

    It’s a testament to the disarray in the Republican Party of Minnesota, that a candidate of Bills’ limited understanding and experience could become its candidate for US Senate. Watch Bills’ campaign become the most gaffe-laden in recent memory, as Bills exposes his ignorance on subject after subject.