The next budget battle

Now that both the House and Senate have passed their budgets, congressional leaders face the daunting task of coming up with some kind of compromise that can pass both chambers.

They are unlikely to manage such a deal — after all, the budgets couldn’t be more different. Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R-Wis.) plan would cut $5.7 trillion in spending, balance in 10 years and reduce the top tax rate from 39.6 percent to 25 percent. It would reshape Medicare and repeal ObamaCare.

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Sen. Patty Murray’s (D-Wash.) budget would raise $975 billion in tax revenue, does not balance, shields entitlement benefits and preserves ObamaCare.

Over the weekend, the White House congratulated the Senate and lambasted the Ryan budget while, without irony, calling on both sides to find common ground.

Congressional aides suggested this week that conferees would be appointed soon. Another option is that Ryan and Murray could put their heads together privately and see if a compromise is even remotely possible.

Should they manage such a thing — the first bicameral budget since 2009 — the resolution would need to pass both the House and Senate.

The biggest advantage of getting a budget passed is that tax reform would need only a simple majority in the Senate, not 60 votes. Furthermore, reconciling the budget is key to returning the Appropriations committees to regular order and avoiding government shutdown confrontations at the beginning of the new fiscal year, on Oct. 1. If they don’t mesh the House and Senate blueprints, the two chambers will again be at odds on spending levels.

The biggest impetus for a deal is that another debt-ceiling showdown is due this summer. President Obama refuses to negotiate over it, citing the ugliness of the parties’ 2011 game of chicken and implicitly reminding Republicans that they lost that public relations battle.

Most Democrats support a “clean” increase of the debt level, which is a non-starter for GOP leaders.

Republicans have said they want significant spending reductions to be attached to any such bill.

Obama met with Republicans at a Washington hotel this month and told them a debt-reduction deal is needed soon. Such a “grand bargain” would have to be struck by the end of July, which is precisely when the administration will be demanding that Congress raise the debt limit.

A bipartisan deal on spending must come this spring or summer. If the parties can somehow agree on a budget resolution now, the chances of a grand bargain this summer would increase exponentially.