Boehner defends delay in budget conference

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) on Thursday defended the decision to delay the creation of a formal budget conference committee to reconcile the wildly different House and Senate budgets.

Boehner said he was following “regular order” by allowing chairmen to hash out an informal framework first.

"The chairmen of the two committees are talking, and as you all know, it’s customary that there’s no appointment of a formal conference until such time as there’s some basic framework worked out from which they can proceed,” Boehner said.

Democrats are accusing Boehner of dragging his feet and say they are prepared to convene a conference without a framework. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) sent a letter to Boehner on Thursday demanding that he take action.

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“Republican leaders have repeatedly chastised the Senate for failing to approve a budget; now, the Senate has done its part,” Pelosi and other House Democratic leaders wrote. “The next step to reaching a budget agreement is obvious: you must appoint House conferees without further delay.”

“There is no time to waste. Sequestration is already taking its toll on our investments in our national security, research, health and economic growth. Congress has already missed the April 15 deadline to deliver a conference report on the budget,” the letter reads.

But Boehner said it’s up to House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray (D-Wash.) to hash things out behind closed doors before a conference begins.

“I want to encourage that to occur,” he said.

A House GOP aide pointed out that in 2009, under then-Speaker Pelosi, the House did not appoint conferees until May even though it passed a budget in March and the Senate passed one in early April.

Boehner noted that creating a conference committee would give Democrats the ability to cause havoc on the House floor if the negotiations failed to produce an agreement.

“Under rules, if you appoint conferees and after 20 legislative days there’s no agreement, the minority has the right to offer motions to instruct, which become politically motivated bombs to throw up on the House floor. So to be frank with all of you, we’re following what I would describe as regular order. These informal conversations are under way, and that’s the way it should be,” Boehner said.

Ryan has said that a framework is needed for the conference so that a down payment on the deficit can be made.

He has signaled there is little chance that his budget, which cuts spending by $4.6 trillion over 10 years to balance, can be melded with the Senate version, which does not cut spending, has $1 trillion in new taxes and does not balance.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has accused Boehner of abandoning his commitment to regular order on budgeting — an abrupt switch after Boehner for four years blamed Reid for not allowing Senate floor votes on a budget.

Senate Budget Committee Ranking Member Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), who has been the harshest critic of the Senate's failure to pass a budget, said he supports Boehner's approach.

"We'll see how it plays out and what the House can do and will do. I don't know," he said.

He said that pre-negotiating a framework is the right way to go.

"That certainly makes sense. We need to know we have an opportunity to succeed or make progress," Sessions said.

Democrats said Sessions in recent months explicitly called for the creation of a conference committee quickly after the Senate passes a budget.

"House Republicans must be pushing him pretty hard to help them drag their feet on a process he has very clearly said needs to be done under regular order and in the light of day," one Democratic aide said.

Democrats say they are eager for a televised open conference where they can point out GOP unwillingness to raise taxes.

“We must engage in a full, open, transparent process to produce a solution that best serves the interests and demands of the American people,” Pelosi and other Democratic leaders wrote.

Pelosi said at a press conference that a budget conference is "long overdue."

"We want a full, open, transparent discussion of priorities [that] allows the public to make a judgment about whose priorities they prefer, and they understand what the decisions are, whose advocating economic growth with good jobs, having a balanced approach to deficit reduction, and strengthening the middle class," she said.

— This story was first posted at 11:30 a.m. and has been updated.