House Democratic leaders launched a concerted attack Tuesday against the Republicans' approach to the budget talks, accusing GOP leaders of eschewing compromise at risk of another government shutdown.
Rep. Steny Hoyer (Md.), the Democratic whip, said Ryan is slow-walking the process for the same reason GOP leaders refused to go to conference on the House and Senate budgets all year: "Because he does not believe there is any agreement that he can bring back to his caucus that his caucus will support."
"There does not seem to be a serious effort [among Republicans] to reach agreement in the budget conference," Hoyer said during his weekly press briefing in the Capitol. "And the reason for that, of course, is that, by definition, reaching an agreement will require compromise.
"I will reiterate that I don't believe that Mr. Ryan believes that if he did that [compromised], he could bring it back to the House and get an agreement from his caucus," Hoyer added. "And therefore, politically it's not wise for him to do so."
Rep. Chris Van Hollen (Md.), senior Democrat on the Budget Committee and a negotiator in the budget talks, piled on, arguing that Ryan is in charge of the negotiations and should act accordingly.
"The Republicans are now chairing this conference committee. It's their turn, they're in charge, and although we've put our priorities forward, we have not seen any plan – not any plan – from our Republican colleagues," Van Hollen said. "It appears they just want to play politics with the Affordable Care Act, run out the clock on the budget negotiations and that would be a great disappointment."
Rep. Jim Clyburn (S.C.), the third-ranking House Democrat who's also at the table of the budget talks, cast similar charges Tuesday. Noting that the government's funding authority runs until mid-January, he nonetheless urged Ryan and the Republicans to pick up the pace for the sake of securing a deal ahead of the Dec. 13 deadline. The shorter timeline, Clyburn said, would instill confidence in consumers surrounding the year-end holidays.
"We ought to put the American people at ease as they gather to celebrate their families and each other during the holidays, and so that they will know that, come Jan. 15, they will not be faced with another government shutdown while they are trying to pay off some of the expenses of those holidays," Clyburn said. "The time has come for [Ryan] to lay his proposal on the table and let us act on it in time for the American people see the results of our work."
Launched as part of the mid-October agreement to reopen the government, the budget conference is attempting to reconcile the House and Senate budgets passed by the respective chambers earlier in the year. The talks have progressed slowly, however, as negotiators have quickly run into the same partisan disagreements that have plagued similar high-stakes budget talks of the past few years.
Indeed, in the first meeting, Ryan wasted no time taking tax increases off the table, which led to an immediate clash with Senate Budget Committee Chairman Patty Murray (D-Wash.), who is insisting that the closing of "egregious" tax loopholes be part of the package.
As further signal that the talks are in trouble, the negotiators have no plans to meet this week before Congress leaves town for a 10-day Thanksgiving break. The absence of formal talks this week means the group will have less than two weeks to get a deal when they return from that break.
Hoyer said he's optimistic the impasse won't threaten another government shutdown. But that, he added, depends largely on the Republicans' willingness to give up some of their sacred cows for the sake of a deal.
"I certainly hope not," Hoyer said, when asked if he foresees another shutdown. "But compromise is necessary.
"Paul Ryan ought to lead," Hoyer added, "not follow his caucus down a road that would lead to [a] shutdown."