On two different Sunday talking head shows, WH chief of Staff Jack Lew said that it takes 60 votes in the Senate to pass a budget. He said it on CNN’s State of the Union:
“But we also need to be honest. You can’t pass a budget in the Senate of the United States without 60 votes and you can’t get 60 votes without bipartisan support. So unless Republicans are willing to work with Democrats in the Senate, Harry Reid is not going to be able to get a budget passed. And I think he was reflecting the reality of that that could be a challenge.”
And he said it on NBC’s Meet the Press:
David Gregory asked Lew why Democrats in the Senate hadn’t passed a budget in 1,019 days. Lew offered an entirely incorrect explanation, arguing that the Senate requires 60 votes to pass a budget, and Democrats had been held back by the 41 Republicans’ intransigence. He explained, “there has been Republican opposition to anything that Senate Democrats have tried to do. So it, it is a challenge in the United States Senate to pass legislation when there’s not that willingness to work together.”
He said it twice on different national news shows, so it was no slip of the tongue. The Washington Post and National Review have characterized Lew’s statement as a “misleading” “stumble,” since it’s factually incorrect. Senate rules forbid filibustering a budget, so it only takes 51 votes to pass. Lew has served as the director of the Office of Management and Budget and is currently the chief of staff at the Obama White House. If ignorance is his best defense, it’s an exceedingly poor one. Vice President Biden and President Obama both served in the Senate, Biden for six terms, and Biden is currently the Senate’s president pro tem. He can case tie-breaking votes. But he shouldn’t need to; there are 53 Democrats in the Senate.
The most obvious explanation for Lew’s statement isn’t that it’s a mistake, but that it’s a lie to smear the Republicans in the Senate to create a smokescreen for the president’s budget and its inevitable failure. The lie counts on having a half-attentive public already disposed to view everything in Washington as purely partisan, and it’s intended to deflect attention from the fact that the Senate’s Democratic leadership views the budget that President Obama released on Monday as a non-starter. The last time an Obama budget was put to an actual vote in the Senate, Biden’s tie-breaker was far from necessary: It failed 97-0. This week’s budget proposal is, if anything, worse than that one.
So we have an irresponsible president proffering a budget that his own party knows is a joke, so the White House deploys its chief of staff to lie to the American public about why it won’t pass the Democrat-controlled Senate.
Either that, or the administration’s top two officials, both former senators, and its chief of staff, a former director of OMB, are ignorant of the Senate’s budgetary process. Which is more likely to be true?
Update: Lew isn’t the only administration official bearing false witness about the budget: Current OMB deputy director Jeffrey Zeints has also been caught in a whopper.