No agreement on budget caps in sight ahead of Memorial Day recess

No agreement on budget caps in sight ahead of Memorial Day recess
© Greg Nash

The odds of congressional negotiators reaching a deal to lift budget caps and raise the debt ceiling ahead of their Memorial Day recess appear to be growing increasingly grim despite top lawmakers's earlier optimism. 

"The first meeting went pretty well the second meeting not as well,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin McCarthyDemocrats livid over GOP's COVID-19 attacks on Biden GOP infighting takes stupid to a whole new level McCarthy laments distractions from far-right members MORE (R-Calif.) said Wednesday. “I think it will take a little more time."

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Disagreements over nondefense discretionary spending remain a key sticking point between parties, with Republicans arguing Democrats are requesting “obscene” levels of spending. And while offers continue to be exchanged, no additional meetings between the “big four” — Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiPhotos of the Week: Schumer, ASU protest and sea turtles Hospitals in underserved communities face huge cuts in reckless 'Build Back Better' plan GOP infighting takes stupid to a whole new level MORE (D-Calif.) House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellDemocrats livid over GOP's COVID-19 attacks on Biden US could default within weeks absent action on debt limit: analysis The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Congress avoids shutdown MORE (R-Ky.) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck SchumerChuck SchumerHospitals in underserved communities face huge cuts in reckless 'Build Back Better' plan GOP infighting takes stupid to a whole new level Progressive groups urge Schumer to prevent further cuts to T plan MORE (D-N.Y.) — and administration officials have been scheduled, a source with knowledge of the discussions said.

The House is scheduled to fly out Thursday afternoon.

Negotiators seemed poised to strike a deal after a scheduled meeting ran long and resulted in a second meeting Tuesday. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said he expected an agreement by the end of the day.

Instead, the second meeting let out quickly with no deal.

"There are still some significant issues outstanding, particularly the domestic-side spending issues -- things like health care, infrastructure and things that average middle-class folks need,”  Sen. Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerHospitals in underserved communities face huge cuts in reckless 'Build Back Better' plan GOP infighting takes stupid to a whole new level Progressive groups urge Schumer to prevent further cuts to T plan MORE (D-N.Y.) said. 

Despite the impasse over nondefense spending, the group has been able to reach a general consensus around setting defense spending levels at $733 billion (including off-book spending) and a debt ceiling lift. 

Pressure for Congress to take action on raising the debt ceiling was amplified Wednesday after Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven MnuchinThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden to tackle omicron risks with new travel rules Mnuchin and McConnell discuss debt limit during brief meeting Major Russian hacking group linked to ransomware attack on Sinclair: report MORE warned the U.S. government could face a default by late-summer, sooner than most analysts projected.

Democrats want spending for two programs – the 2020 census and the VA mission act – to be moved to off-budget accounts, leaving more room for other domestic priorities.

House Democrats on Wednesday approved a bill that included some $8.5 billion in spending for the 2020 census. The VA Mission Act, which had previously been funded through automatic mandatory spending, is due to move nearly $9 billion onto the discretionary side of the ledger this year.

A House aide said it was "more likely that we’ll discover the moon is made of green cheese” than strike a deal this week.