By Erik Wasson
No sign of progress from budget conference
There was no sign of progress toward a congressional budget deal as the new House-Senate budget conference met for the second time on Wednesday.
Republicans and Democrats are trying to forge a deal by Dec. 13 that at least replaces some automatic sequester cuts and sets a spending limit for the rest of the year in order to avoid a shutdown in January. The House and Senate are $91 billion apart in their spending levels for 2014 and more fundamentally divided on the role new revenue should play in replacing the sequestration cuts.
House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray (D-Wash.) opened the meeting by disclosing that they have had private conversations on the parameters of the deal, but they said there was no concrete movement forward.
“We are not there yet,” Ryan said. “There is a big gap between our two budgets ... we have spent a lot of time talking about our differences.”
“Our budgets are dramatically different,” Murray said.
She claimed that she has been “encouraged by those conversations” with Ryan. But when asked about the basis for optimism, she was vague.
“It’s based on the fact that we all know we’ve got a short time frame and we’ve got to come to some decisions and we’re talking,” she said.
Murray has insisted, including in a weekend op-ed in The Washington Post, that closing “egregious” tax loopholes be part of any deal. Ryan has said higher taxes should not be part of the equation.
Ryan’s point was echoed by many of the other Republicans during the second budget conference meeting, which featured a discussion of U.S. debt and employment with Congressional Budget Office Director Doug Elmendorf.
The slow pace of the talks is clearly frustrating appropriators on the panel. Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) beseeched his colleagues to come to a deal quickly to allow the spending panel to craft a detailed spending package before the government shuts down after Jan. 15.
Panelist and Appropriations Committee ranking member Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) said there is “concern among all of us that we won’t be able to complete our work.”
“Reaching a number by Dec. 13 is absolutely doable. We should get in a room and get that done,” she said.
Cole called for a deal by Thanksgiving recess, which he noted is nine days away.
“This is a matter of some urgency,” he said. Cole asked Elmendorf to draft a list of overlapping proposals in the Senate and House budgets.
Ryan responded that he and Murray were already looking at those.