By Erik Wasson
Budget conferees have no plans to meet and might not get together until five days before their Dec. 13 deadline to reach a deal.
The lack of activity underscores the pessimism of Democrats and Republicans on the committee that they would be able to reach even a small deal to turn off $91 billion in automatic spending cuts both sides say they dislike.
Absent a budget deal, the government could shut down again Jan. 16.
Both the House and Senate are on recess next week, and the Senate is scheduled to be out the week of Dec. 2, leaving the week of Dec. 9 as the last possible opportunity for the conferees to meet.
Ryan on Tuesday predicted there would not be another government shutdown and that the conference committee would either reach a deal, or existing spending levels would be extended. In the latter event, the automatic spending cuts would go forward.
He said he and Murray had made some progress, but that fundamental disagreements remain over entitlement reform, taxes and how far a deficit-cutting deal would go.
“We are farther than we were when we started,” he said.
“Chairman Murray and Chairman Ryan continue to talk and will work with other members of the conference on the most productive path forward,” Murray spokesman Eli Zupnick said in an email.
The budget conference has met formally only twice, on Oct. 30 and Nov. 13.
House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) on Tuesday blamed the lack of progress on the GOP, noting Ryan resisted forming a budget conference for most of 2013.
“In my view, the reason Mr. Ryan didn't go to conference is because he does not believe there is any agreement that he can bring back to his caucus that his caucus will support. They are not interested in compromise,” he said.
Sources noted that budget agreements are not generally hashed out in group settings, and that no budget conference committee has had two or more public meetings since 1993.
But the slow pace of the talks has frustrated those most worried about the sequester: defense hawks and appropriators, who have been robbed of their ability to direct funds.
All 12 House GOP Appropriations subcommittee chairmen joined a letter to Ryan and Murray urging a deal by this week or Dec. 2 at the latest.
Appropriators say crafting a detailed omnibus bill based on a new budget cap would take about a month, not including Christmas recess.
The lack of movement this week could bode ill for crafting such a bill. In that case, a last-minute stopgap bill before Jan. 15 would be the most likely outcome.
One Republican on the panel said he still thought a deal was possible given Ryan’s and Murray’s behind-the-scenes work.
“I think Ryan and Murray have made some progress, but they’re not at the breakthrough point,” Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) said.
— Mike Lillis contributed.
— This story was posted at 11:47 a.m. and last updated at 4:43 p.m.