President Obama’s top economic adviser Gene Sperling got heated in a Tuesday interview on CNBC, when anchor Maria Bartiromo pressed him on the federal budget. The exchange was so explosive that CNBC re-aired the interview on Wednesday — in celebration of holding officials to account and setting the record straight for the public.
There were just a couple problems: Bartiromo initially elaborated on a false premise, and her subsequent line of questioning treated a GOP political stunt as if it was standard operating procedure on Capitol Hill.
“How tough has it been operating without a budget?” Bartiromo asked. “This administration has not had a budget in 3,000 days. Why is it that the president puts forth the budget and not even one Democrat bought into it? Was it so reckless in terms of spending that your party actually couldn’t even buy into it?”
This conflates two different conservative lines of attack, but in doing so gets the budget process backward. Every year by law, the White House issues its own budget, but it is, for all intents and purposes, a detailed list of suggestions — not a legislative package Congress is expected to vote on, as Bartiromo implied. Congress is where actual budgeting happens, and on the Hill, Republicans are fond of attacking Democrats for not passing a budget in three years. It’s a technically accurate, though dubious line of attack — one that may soon be moot. But it’s gridlock on Capitol Hill, not anything proposed by Obama, that has prevented the government from operating on a traditional budget.
Separately, for the last two years Republicans in Congress have for political reasons converted the White House budget into legislative language and put it to a vote. Democrats have opposed it unanimously for both political and substantive reasons, but not, as Bartiromo said, because it was “reckless.”
Sperling did his best to set the record straight on this point.
“There is about zero truth to anything in the question you just asked,” he said. “When the House was voting the Ryan plan, the Democratic alternative, which we supported and we felt was the budget that most closely resembled our budget, was put forward by Chris Van Hollen. It got a considerable number of Democratic votes. Republicans tried to put up a mock budget of ours, which was not our budget, it was not our specifics, it was not our details. We told Democrats to vote for the House Democratic budget by Chris Van Hollen. It got overwhelming Democratic support.”
House Democrats had other motives for opposing Obama’s budget — to avoid muddying distinctions between the parties on issues like Medicare, to keep at arm’s length from a polarizing president. But it’s a different story than the one you’d get from this exchange.