Murray, Ryan face new mission impossible on the budget

House and Senate budget leaders face a new mission impossible: reconciling their wildly different blueprints.

The Senate’s passage of a budget for the first time in four years sets the stage for leaders to name conferees to negotiate a compromise measure. A reconciled budget resolution would then be put before the full House and Senate for votes.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) have made no decisions about when to take these steps, congressional sources said.

{mosads}“No decisions have been made at this point, but the leaders will be discussing next steps with [House Budget Committee] Chairman [Paul] Ryan and our members in the days and weeks ahead,” a House GOP leadership aide said.

Experts say the two may wait until President Obama delivers his delayed budget in early April. With a hike to the debt ceiling scheduled for summer, Obama is set to push for another “grand bargain” on deficit reduction this summer.

A budget reconciliation bill could be used as the vehicle for such a deal because the Senate budget contains reconciliation instructions that a conference committee could rewrite.

If Obama and House and Senate leaders agreed on a grand deal cutting entitlements and raising taxes, the budget reconciliation instructions would protect that package from a filibuster.

“It is my impression that Reid and the Speaker will not appoint conferees unless they have reached the conclusion that they can get a result,” Steve Bell, of the Bipartisan Policy Center, said.

Reconciling the House and Senate budgets is often a difficult task, something highlighted by the House GOP’s “No Budget, No Pay” act approved in January.

Under that measure, lawmakers would have had their paychecks withheld if their chamber failed to approve a blueprint. But the law does not require Congress to reconcile competing measures.

Neither House nor Senate Budget panel leaders are refusing the mission, but they don’t sound optimistic.

A spokesman for the Senate Budget Committee said Monday that Chairwoman Patty Murray (D-Wash.) would work with Ryan (R-Wis.) to lay the groundwork for a possible deal.

Asked about a conference committee, the spokesman said conferees would be named “at some point.”

“Now that the Senate and the House have each passed their budget resolutions, Chairman Murray is going to be working with Chairman Ryan and others to move to a conference committee and hopefully to a bipartisan deal,” Senate Budget Committee spokesman Eli Zupnick said Monday.

Ryan’s office was even more circumspect, with spokesman William Allison in a statement noting that voters had elected a “divided government.”

“Chairman Ryan is hopeful our elected leaders will make it work,” Allison said.

Ryan and Murray have written radically different budgets.

Ryan’s budget cuts $5.7 trillion in spending compared to the Congressional Budget Office baseline, balances in 10 years, and cuts the top tax rate from 39.6 percent to 25 percent. The budget calls for Medicare to be converted into a partially privatized system where future seniors would buy private insurance with government help.

The Murray budget, which passed the Senate early Saturday by a 50-49 vote, raises $975 billion in tax revenue, does not balance, and by turning off automatic cuts slated to take effect can be said to increase spending. It does not cut any entitlement benefits.

Reconciling the budget is key to returning the appropriations committees to regular order and avoiding government shutdown confrontations at the beginning of the new fiscal year on Oct. 1.

For example, the Murray and Ryan budgets set different spending ceilings for next year. Murray’s is $1.058 trillion, while Ryan’s is $966 billion.

House appropriators have made “no decision” about whether to start writing their 12 annual appropriations bills to the Ryan plan’s top-line number, committee spokeswoman Jennifer Hing said.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) is waiting to see if a budget conference happens and what Obama’s budget looks like, a Senate aide said.

Tags Barbara Mikulski Boehner Harry Reid John Boehner Patty Murray

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