Like the famous cherry blossoms forecast to bloom in a few weeks, this time of year is also marked by the arrival of competing, partisan federal budget proposals that political foes immediately declare dead-on-arrival, though not so dead that they can't be used as campaign fodder.
Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) got the process underway Tuesday by introducing the House Republican budget for the coming fiscal year, DOA because it has no chance of getting through the Democratic Senate or to be signed by President Obama.
Ryan, the GOP's nominee for vice president, did this last year, of course. The big difference between his new plan and his old one is that this year's would balance federal spending and revenues in 10 years, not nearly three decades. In fact in 2023, the new proposal runs a small surplus. But other than that it's almost an exact repeat of the budget from last year, right down to the title - "The Path to Prosperity."
How is it possible that this year's proposal would lead to a surplus by 2023 when the last one didn't reach balance until 2040? It has $600 billion dollars in tax increases.
No, Ryan hasn't done a "Jedi mind meld" with the president, as Obama might put it. He's just banking the new revenue from the fiscal cliff deal, which allowed tax rates to rise on the wealthiest Americans.
But many features that made the previous year's GOP budget dead on arrival in the eyes of Democrats are still there.
They include repealing Obamacare (even though Ryan counts on $716 billion for deficit reduction from that) and changing Medicare for future retirees so they would buy health insurance in the private market with "premium support" from the government instead of the current system in which every senior is automatically enrolled in a single-payer insurance system.
The Medicare proposal, you may recall, is the one Democrats successfully attacked during the 2012 campaign by saying Ryan wanted to "end Medicare as we know it." Those aspects remain objectionable and we can expect to see Democrats go after Medicare changes again when everyone returns to the campaign trail in 2014.
On Wednesday, the Democrats in control of the Senate are scheduled to release their own proposal, which will, in turn, be DOA. That's because it will include what Democrats call a "balanced" mix of spending cuts and tax increases, about $975 billion in cuts (some of which Republicans deride as budget gimmicks) and $975 billion from closing tax loopholes. Republicans adamantly oppose raising taxes.
Then, in April, the president is expected to unveil his own budget, nine weeks later than the February deadline. It hardly matters, however, since that budget will be DOA, too. The president almost certainly will offer a budget that, like the Senate Democrats' plan, includes tax increases along with spending cuts.
But Washington is one of the few places where hope springs eternal, that DOA proposals will breathe new life into partisan causes. In this case, Ryan said, it's the starting point for negotiations and a flag planted in the ground:
"This is our offer. This is our vision. And what you do is you actually show the country what you believe in."
What seems certain is that this document is so different from the one Democrats (in the Senate and the White House) are writing it's difficult to see how Republicans and Democrats ever reconcile on taxes or Medicare.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said of Ryan's budget:
"As Yogi Berra famously said, "It's déjà vu all over again." We've seen this show before... Not only is this the wrong approach, it's the same old approach."
In his book, "The Federal Budget: "Politics, Policy, Process" Allen Schick, a University of Maryland professor of public policy writes: "Budgeting rarely is all-out war, for if it were, even the best efforts of the disputants would not bring closure."
This, however, may be one of those times when budgeting is, indeed, all-out war.