Nation's CEOs urge lawmakers to solve budget differences to boost economic growth

The nation's top business executives are hopeful that congressional lawmakers will seize the opportunity to iron out fiscal differences in an ongoing House-Senate budget conference.

Business Roundtable, a group comprised of CEOs, is pressing conferees to produce a viable plan on the fiscal 2014 budget, the debt ceiling and to address the flaws of sequestration.

Although pessimism on Capitol Hill abounds, John Engler, BRT's president, told reporters on Tuesday he is optimistic that a deal of some sort can be hashed out before the budget conference's Dec. 13 deadline. 

Engler thinks the both parties and sides of the Capitol have a "keen interest" in reaching an agreement that can help smooth the budget process through the first two months of the year when lawmakers will be faced with two major deadlines. 

"We don't need to go down this path again," he said. 

The government will run out of funding by Jan. 15 and the debt ceiling extension expires on Feb. 7.

BRT has prepared a letter to congressional leaders that is set to go out within the next day or so, urging lawmakers to prove they can work together and hammer out an agreement on the budget issues that led to the 16-day government shutdown last month.

Producing a mix of short- and long-term solutions would go a long way for economic certainty and would certainly help the psyche of businesses and consumers heading into the holiday season, he said.

Any agreement that removes the threat of a government shutdown or default will go a long way to that end, while any struggle to reach a deal could have "negative consequences," Engler told reporters. 

He expects budget conferees to replace some of the scheduled spending cuts for next year in areas such as research and development, which he said have been hit hard but the sequester. 

Meanwhile, House and Senate appropriators are urging the conferees to churn out a top-line number by Thanksgiving so they can begin the process of piecing together their 12 bills with the aim of producing a massive omnibus measure that meets the January deadline.

Without an agreement, Senate Budget Committee Chairman Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), who are leading the charge for their respective chambers, would have to consider another short-term funding bill and, possibly provide guidance for allowing the nation to continue paying its bills beyond the spring.

While Engler isn't anticipating a comprehensive deal, he suggested that lawmakers could provide a roadmap for tax and entitlement reform, which would give businesses hope that a deal can be reached, eventually. 

In the background, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) have been pounding the pavement to craft an overhaul of the tax code, which Engler referred to as a "surprisingly good news story."

"It's coming together," he said. 

Engler remains ever the optimist on a broad range of issues from immigration reform to an overhaul of the corporate tax code, as he outlined BRT's lobbying agenda for reporters on Tuesday. 

He said that dropping the tax corporate tax rate to 25 percent is a "very doable" goal. 

BRT also has put its weight solidly behind the completion of major trade deals including the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and an agreement between the United States and the European Union, which is just getting started but would likely create the world's largest trading zone. 

He also lamented that Congress hasn't moved forward with trade promotion authority (TPA), which he argued could "strengthen the hand of U.S. trade negotiators" as they conduct talks around the world. 

Lawmakers and the White House have vowed to move forward on fast-track. 

As far as completion of the 12-nation TPP, Engler said that deadline could slip into next year even though it is possible negotiators could shake hands by the new year. 

Still, there would be much more work to be done and Congress may not get a chance to consider it until after the 2014 elections.