Pelosi tries to jumpstart budget conference

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House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) has said a “framework” agreement needs to be forged before a conference is formed. Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has said he does not want a conference set up if it is doomed for failure, especially because the minority could then gum up the House floor with countless motions to instruct the conferees.

Pelosi said Thursday that she has gathered 183 signatures for a discharge petition to try to force a conference.

Democrats want the conference to be convened in order to deal with $80 billion in automatic sequester cuts that went into effect this year and $91 billion in cuts to discretionary spending slated for 2014.

House Republicans are proceeding with 12 annual spending bills based on the overall sequester level, with increases for defense and even deeper cuts to social programs. The Senate is proceeding at a level that ignores the sequester. The difference threatens an Oct. 1 government shutdown and another round of automatic sequester cuts if both sides cannot agree on how to make cuts.

“The economy has seen important improvement, but we could see faster growth if we acted now to replace the sequester and put in place a final budget. We stand ready to do the work of the American people and begin budget negotiations. Mr. Speaker, what are you afraid of?” Van Hollen said in a statement.

The budget conference could also be used to fast-track entitlement cuts or tax increases to deal with the long-term debt. Such a grand bargain, which has proved elusive for President Obama and Congress for two years, could ease passage of a debt-ceiling increase that will be needed by November.

Without an increase to the ceiling, the government would start to default on its payment obligations and the U.S. credit rating could suffer another downgrade.