Spending panel chiefs demand budget deal before turkey day

Congress's top appropriators on Thursday urged the budget conference to deliver a deal on 2014 spending before Thanksgiving.

The two chairmen said this was the best way to ensure an appropriations bill can be done for the year is to deliver a top-line spending number by Nov. 22.

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"The December 13 budget conference target date leaves only a month to conference the 12 appropriations bills, pass them in the House and Senate, and have them signed into law before the continuing resolution expires," House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) and Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) wrote in a letter to the leaders of the budget conference.

The new House-Senate budget panel has until Dec. 13 to come to an agreement.

It met for the first time on Wednesday, and members quickly fell into a fight over whether new tax revenue should be included as part of a deal.

Given the differences, it’s expected the panel will have a tough time reaching any deal, much less an agreement on a top-line spending level for 2014 by Nov. 22.

Rogers and Mikulski wrote that while the final deadline to complete appropriations would be Dec. 2 , the Nov. 22 deadline was preferable.

The letter also asks the conference to come up with a top-line spending level for fiscal 2015 so that the annual appropriations process can wrap up on time by Sept. 30 for the first time in years.

The government is running on a stop-gap continuing resolution following the end of a 16-day government shutdown this month. The last time detailed appropriations bills were passed was for fiscal 2012, and in that case a giant omnibus bill was used. 

The letter says that waiting until the last minute risks more stopgap measures that do not specify how agencies can spend and save money.

"We believe that if an agreement on a discretionary spending number can be reached early, it will allow for more thoughtful and responsible spending decisions, set the parameters for the budgetary savings that need to be reached in your Budget conference, and build momentum for a larger budget agreement that addresses the nation’s wide range of fiscal challenges," the letter states.

An aide said that if a deal is reached Dec. 13, then appropriations for the rest of the year would likely be worked out behind closed doors without member input. Congress would have to jam an omnibus through both bodies to keep the government open by Jan. 15. "The chairmen want a return to regular order and want members to have their say," the aide said. 

A spokesman for House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said Ryan wants to get away from stopgap measures, too.

"Chairman Ryan wants to return to regular order. It will help Congress set priorities through the appropriations process. He will continue to work with Chairman Murray and all members of the budget-conference committee to find common ground and restart the budget process," spokesman William Allison said.

Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray (D-Wash.), one of the leaders of the conference, was taken by surprise by the letter from her colleague. 
 
"I don't know anything about that" she said Thursday.  
 
House Budget Commtitee Ranking Member Chris Van Hollen (R-Md.) said getting a quick deal makes sense.

“Replacing the job killing sequester and adopting top line budget numbers should be a key priority of the budget negotiations. The Conference Committee should pick up the pace of the negotiations so we can get an agreement by Thanksgiving and give the Appropriations Committees time to do their work," he said.
 
— This post was last updated at 6 p.m.