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Tom Feran
By Tom Feran June 16, 2011

Sen. Rob Portman says Senate Democrats neglected basic responsibilities by not passing a budget

Legislators haven't stopped using speeches, news releases and snail mail to deliver messages, but they increasingly rely on social media like Twitter and Facebook to make points quickly and constantly, if sometimes too briefly.

Ohio's Sen. Rob Portman, for example, sent this tweet on May 17: "We’re in a fiscal crisis, yet the Democrat led Senate has not passed a budget in 748 days."

Twitter limits statements to 140 characters, so we asked Portman's office for elaboration.

We were referred to a news release posted on his website on May 19. It quotes Portman, a member of the Senate Budget Committee, saying: "It is a shame that while our nation is in a fiscal crisis and families and small businesses are forced to do more with less, the Democrat-led Senate has failed to pass a budget for 750 days now. By failing to pass and live within a budget, something Ohio families and small businesses do on a regular basis, Senate Democrats have neglected one of their most basic responsibilities."

If a basic responsibility of Senate Republicans is staying "on message," Portman did his duty.

We recognized his point as one that was made the same day by the National Republican Senatorial Committee -- which added a specific reference to Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown, a Democrat up for re-election next year.

"Every month, every Ohio family has to put together a budget and live within their means, yet Sherrod Brown and his fellow liberal Democrats apparently don't believe they should be held to that same standard in Washington," said NRSC spokesman Jahan Wilcox.  "Passing a federal budget each year is the most basic responsibility of the Congress, but for more than four years Brown has been content to kick the can down the road and keep maxing out the government credit card.  Now here we are after 750 days, and Brown and his fellow Democrats won't even propose a budget, let alone pass one."

Updated versions of the one-size-fits-all statement have been issuing from the NRSC since then ("760 days and counting," "770 days and counting"), targeting Brown and at least seven other Senate Democrats.

We did some simple subtraction and got back to April 29, 2009 -- which was, according to the Congressional Research Service and news sources, when the Senate passed a budget resolution for fiscal 2010.

None has passed since, so the time tally in the statements from Portman and the NRSC is accurate.

But we wondered if that meant the Senate, under Democratic control, had neglected its basic responsibility.

Our colleagues at PolitiFact Florida had the same question. Building on earlier work by our PolitiFact National colleagues, they found the claim lacks important details.

A budget resolution is a policy plan that outlines the intent of Congress, but it is not an appropriations bill, or spending bill, which actually allocates money for specific purposes. In the absence of a budget resolution, appropriations bills have continued to allocate money.

The inability to pass the budget framework can reflect poorly on the majority party's organizational skills and/or on the degree of partisan discord in Congress.

Since 1983 -- the first year the Senate and House stopped passing two budget resolutions annually and started passing one -- the two chambers failed to pass a joint budget on four occasions. For fiscal year 2003, the Senate, which was under Democratic control, failed to pass a budget resolution.

On three other occasions -- fiscal years 1999, 2005 and 2007 -- the Senate and House failed to reconcile their different bills and pass a compromise measure. In those three cases, Republicans were in the majority in both chambers.

Jason Peuquet, staff analyst at the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, a bipartisan public policy think tank, told PolitiFact Florida that the lack of a budget resolution makes the Democrats appear irresponsible, though they have continued to allocate dollars as needed  through other spending bills

"But the larger picture is that lawmakers in Congress and the administration have so far not enacted a long-term fiscal plan to stabilize and reduce the debt," Peuquet said. "That is the true metric of fiscal responsibility, and there is plenty of blame to go around for both parties as to why our fiscal outlook is so dire."

While the National Republican Senatorial Committee and Portman have correctly stated the number of days since a budget passed the Senate, their statements are loaded with a certain amount of hyperbole.

The claim implies that the stalled budget process is the exclusive fault of Senate Democrats and not a function of partisan politics on both sides. It also fails to note that since 1983, the GOP was in control of both houses of Congress in three of the four years that a budget resolution wasn’t approved.

Those are important details to know.

On the Truth-O-Meter, a statement that is accurate but leaves out important details can get just one rating: Half True.

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Our Sources

Sen. Rob Portman, Twitter post, 3:05 p.m., May 17, 2011

Congressional Research Service, "Congressional Budget Resolutions: Historical Information," April 4, 2011

Sen. Rob Portman, "Portman Calls for Open Debate on Budget," May 19, 2011

Interview with Christine Mangi, press secretary to Sen. Portman, May 23, 2011

National Republican Senatorial Committee, Statements

PolitiFact Florida, "George LeMieux rips Sen. Bill Nelson for Senate's budget failure," May 24, 2011

PolitiFact, "Hoyer says GOP 'didn't have a budget' in 2002, 2004, 2006," June 14, 2010

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Sen. Rob Portman says Senate Democrats neglected basic responsibilities by not passing a budget

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