Dems want 2014 budget deal

House Democratic leaders urged Republicans late Monday to come to the table and work out a deal on the 2014 budget.

With a government shutdown just minutes away, the Democrats dismissed the Republicans' push for eleventh hour negotiations on a stopgap spending bill as a gimmick. Instead, they called for GOP leaders to appoint conferees to iron out the differences between the House and Senate 2014 budget bills, a move the Republicans have resisted for the last six months.

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"We have been pressing our Republican colleagues to negotiate on the budget since last March," Rep. Chris Van Hollen (Md.), the senior Democrat on the House Budget Committee, said during a press briefing in the Capitol. "The House passed a budget, and the Senate passed a budget. … Well, it turns out they weren't serious about getting a federal budget."  

Van Hollen highlighted a Democratic resolution calling on Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to appoint conferees to negotiate the 2014 budget.

"They refused to do that," he noted. 

The Democrats accused the Republicans of eluding those talks for fear that any subsequent compromise would cause a revolt from the Tea Party conservatives in their ranks. 

"Why would they do that?" Van Hollen asked. "Because you have to compromise in a budget negotiations."

The events in the final hours before the shutdown flipped the budget politics of the last year on their head. Republicans, who have refused to negotiate over the 2014 budget proposals, suddenly called for a conference committee. Democrats, who have repeatedly urged a conference, refused one.

The Democrats characterized the GOP's last-minute call for a CR conference as a political stunt designed to deflect blame for the shutdown.

Van Hollen characterized the move as "a fig leaf that's not going to give them any political cover."

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) was much more terse. 

“We will not go to conference with a gun to our head,” he said.

Democrats say they've already compromised in the debate by accepting the Republicans' baseline spending level of $986 billion, which includes the sequester cuts, versus the $1.058 trillion level urged by Senate Democrats. They say the Republicans should make a similar concession by dropping the effort to derail ObamaCare and accept a "clean" package.

"We are taking their number, and we would hope that they could also take their number, so that we can keep the government open," Rep. Steny Hoyer (Md.), the Democratic whip, said Monday.

But Republicans reject that argument, saying the $986 billion level is simply the figure dictated by the Budget Control Act, which was passed in 2011 with broad bipartisan support — including the backing of the same Democratic leaders most critical of the GOP's negotiating strategy.

"That decision was made two years ago when we all agreed, in a bipartisan fashion, on the Budget Control Act," Rep. James Lankford (R-Okla.) said Monday. "That's already agreed to."