Obama budget chief floats negotiations with Paul Ryan

White House Budget Director Sylvia Burwell on Friday said she sees an opening to negotiate a spending increase with House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.).

Burwell noted that Ryan this week signaled he wants to increase defense spending this year above the budget caps, and said that could spark a negotiation separate from the appropriations process.

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“I think that is the start of a conversation,” Burwell said while praising the two-year budget deal that Ryan struck in December with Senate Budget Chairwoman Patty Murray (D-Wash.).

“What happened in Ryan-Murray can happen at any time and any place,” Burwell said at a breakfast sponsored by The Christian Science Monitor.

She said the White House will be pushing for its jobs spending within the budget cap this year, and added said they will want one-for-one increases in defense and non-defense spending as part of any deal.

Ryan's office declined to comment on Burwell's remarks.

The budget chief also outlined ways the President Obama’s $3.9 trillion budget could shape the appropriations bills being drafted in Congress.

House and Senate appropriators said they would ignore Obama’s request for $56 billion in spending above the budget caps and proceed with writing 12 spending bill to the $1.014 trillion budget cap level in law.

“We are not disappointed that they will go forward,” Burwell said. “Everyone has agreed the appropriators can go forward with their process.”

Burwell said expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit, which Obama calls for in his budget, is popular with Republicans and that she can see action on Obama’s call for $302 billion in transportation spending this year.

Burwell said the ongoing negotiation between Senate Environment and Public Works Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) on a surface transportation bill is where the next steps will take place. The Highway Trust Fund will run out of money by the fall unless Congress act.

The budget director said the White House will play a supporting role “giving space for Congress to do work,” a formula that helped move immigration reform forward, she said.

Obama is calling for corporate tax reform to generate $150 billion for the new spending.

Joint Economic Committee Chairman Kevin Brady (R-Texas) on Friday dismissed Burwell’s overture to Ryan, and argued that Obama’s budget was not leading anywhere.

“I don’t think it has much relevance frankly,” Brady said during an interview on C-Span’s Newsmakers program that will air on Sunday.

Brady said that given the amount of work left to do on tax reform, including soliciting feedback on draft plan from Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.), an infrastructure deal using tax reform revenue is not going to happen.

A year ago, Burwell was engaged in secretive deficit grand bargain talks with Senate Republicans that ultimately failed, and this year came under fire during testimony before the Senate Budget Committee.

Committee Ranking Member Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) harshly confronted Burwell during the hearing, alleging she would not admit the budget calls for higher spending than the cap.

Burwell said that there is space for bipartisan accords before the election, but people need to remain civil.

“Just basic civility,” she said. “I think there is a little less focus on the importance of relationships.”

— This story was last updated at 5:12 p.m.