Ryan signals no budget conference in sight

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said Tuesday he will not agree to a conference committee on the House and Senate budgets unless Senate Democrats first agree to a "framework" for the talks.

The demands from the House Budget Committee chairman suggest the two sides are not close to beginning a formal conference to reconcile the two budgets, which will be a giant task in itself.

“We want to go to conference when we feel we have a realistic chance of getting an agreement,” Ryan told reporters Tuesday after a hearing. “We don’t want to conference when we have an endless process that focuses on our differences.”

Pressed on what a “framework” would consist of, Ryan acknowledged that he does not know yet.

“This is what we have to discover and explore. What we want to do is have constructive dialogues to find out where the common ground is and go to conference when we have a realistic chance of coming out with an agreement,” he said.

The House-passed budget cuts $4.6 trillion in spending to balance over 10 years without raising taxes. The Senate budget, the first one passed by the upper chamber in four years, raises nearly $1 trillion in new taxes. It also does not include a net reduction in spending since it turns off the cuts scheduled under the sequester.

Ryan has a meeting with Senate Budget Committee chairwoman Patty Murray (D-Wash.) last week and said that talks would continue on the framework.

“We are going to keep talking and we’re going to keep meeting and that’s our plan,” he said.

Ryan in 2011 declined to participate in the deficit supercommittee, which Murray co-chaired and which failed in its mission to find $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction. Because the supercommittee failed, nine years of automatic cuts totaling $1.2 trillion went into effect March 1.

Critics said Ryan, who went on to fame as the GOP’s vice presidential candidate in 2012, ducked the supercommittee to avoid being tarred by failure.

Ryan said Tuesday that he very much wants to broker a deficit compromise through a budget conference committee. 

“I am the chairman of the Budget committee,” he said. “I didn’t do the supercommittee because I didn’t see that it was going to lead to anything. I think this has a much better chance of leading somewhere.”

Ryan and Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) are under increasing pressure from Democrats to convene a budget conference by appointing conferees. 

Up until Monday night, the GOP cited the fact the Senate had not physically delivered its budget to the House and the reason for delay. Senate Democrats took away that reason by delivering the document Monday night.

“This evening the Senate sent their budget over to the House for consideration, and I urge Speaker Boehner to appoint budget conferees without delay,” Budget Committee Ranking Member Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) said. “There are important fiscal issues facing our nation, and House Republicans have long argued that we follow the regular order to address them.”

Van Hollen on Tuesday noted that the GOP had spent years deriding Senate Democrats for violating budget laws by failing to produce a budget and this year blasted President Obama for being more than two months late in producing his budget. 

He noted that the House and Senate are supposed to finish conferencing their budgets by April 15 under the law. 

“Right now the Congress is out of compliance with the budget act,” he said. “Let’s get on with this.”

Ryan spoke after a hearing in which Treasury Secretary Jack Lew defended Obama's 2014 budget. During the hearing, Lew said Treasury cannot yet pinpoint when the debt ceiling will need to be raised. In the absence of a budget conference agreement, the need to raise the debt ceiling this summer could provoke a fiscal showdown.