Congressional budget talks at critical point
December 2nd, 2013
09:51 PM ET
9 months ago

Congressional budget talks at critical point

Washington (CNN) - Congressional budget talks have entered a pivotal phase with some lawmakers working to lower expectations. But the two top negotiators and their staff have outlined how a possible deal, if they agree on one, could get through the House and Senate.

House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, and Senate Budget Committee Chairman Patty Murray, D-Washington, are leading a conference committee convened to work out differences between House and Senate budget resolutions.

The marquee issue is more forced spending cuts, or sequester, set to take effect in mid-January.

The committee has until December 13 to agree on spending levels and how to tackle the sweeping cuts that would total $110 billion.

Democrats want to erase those cuts, while many Republicans want to spare the Pentagon, which is taking the biggest single hit.

The Ryan-Murray committee was tasked to come up with a deal as part of legislation passed in October that ended the government shutdown.

An aim is to return "regular order" to the congressional budget process whereby lawmakers approve spending bills and avoid future shutdowns.

While there is no agreement yet, two senior Democratic aides told CNN that staff is paving the way for one by determining how it would move through the Capitol.

But Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Maryland, one of the House Democrats on the conference committee, threw cold water on any imminent budget deal, telling CNN the budget talks "are going way too slowly."

Van Hollen said progress so far was confined to "narrowing the scope" – instead of discussing how to replace the forced cuts scheduled to go into effect over 10 years, the two sides are discussing how to replace the sequester for the next two years.

Still, congressional aides told CNN that Republicans and Democrats would have to draft at least one spending bill, a prospect that would require more Senate votes than a normal budget package.

Why is that necessary?

Talks have gotten far enough to confront a political reality: any deal to roll back spending cuts must include an equal amount of new fees or revenues to make sure the deficit is unaffected. Otherwise, Republicans will not sign on. And any new fees or revenues require legislation. A non-binding budget report wouldn't cut it.

Such a spending bill would likely require 60 votes to pass the Senate, but one senior Democratic aide told CNN they feel that if Ryan signed on, they'd be able to find the five Republicans needed to prevail there.

Budget sources indicate a few possible money-raisers are on the table, including: increased airline fees, changes in federal pension contributions and proceeds from auctioning electromagnetic spectrum.

Republican Rep. Tom Cole, R-Oklahoma, who also sits on the conference committee, described what he thought were four main goals of the group.

But taken together, they frame a modest plan – secure the savings from sequester, continue to lower the deficit, ease the sequester's impact, and restore regular order in the congressional budget process.

"They're not on the grand bargain scale, but let's just hit some singles around here for a while. We don't need to swing for the fences. Our batting average isn't very good so let's get on base," Cole told reporters Monday.

The budget negotiators are working to agree on "top line" numbers for spending bills to cover the 2014 and 2015 fiscal years, and leave it to the Appropriations Committees to decide how to spread out the cuts to various programs, instead of using the blunt across the board formula set up by the sequester.

Those committees would have to put together an "omnibus" spending bill to fund the government before the January 15 deadline.

Cole said it's possible that if the committees needed some time to finish the details of a deal over the December holiday period that Congress would pass some type of "very short-term" spending bill to avoid any government shutdown.

Asked about the possibility the House would stay in session longer this month to finish a deal, Cole said 'the Speaker is pretty adamant that we are out of here on the 13th [of December]."

All sides stressed there are no agreements yet on spending levels or where to find any additional revenues.

But the fact that staff is laying out a possible legislative end-game signals something more than optimism. That concrete action is possible and could come as soon as this week.

A senior Democratic aide tells CNN that Murray will return to Washington on Tuesday, a week before the rest of the Senate, to continue direct talks with Ryan.


Filed under: Budget • Congress • Paul Ryan
soundoff (21 Responses)
  1. HenryMiller

    "...any deal to roll back spending cuts must include an equal amount of new fees or revenues to make sure the deficit is unaffected."

    No new fees, no new revenues.

    December 2, 2013 10:23 pm at 10:23 pm |
  2. Fair is fair

    We don't do budgets! This is the USA !!

    December 2, 2013 10:40 pm at 10:40 pm |
  3. Peppy

    If you have children, enjoy the future Obammy is giving them. None !!!!!

    December 2, 2013 10:54 pm at 10:54 pm |
  4. sonnie3

    Time to lead, or follow or get the heck out of the way of the reforms that are needed

    December 2, 2013 10:58 pm at 10:58 pm |
  5. kiing

    all these repubs are doing with their budget policies is sucking more money from middle America, towards the upper society, so they can pour more money into the Chinese war machine. i've been warning Americans for years now and they jump on the repubs superior propaganda machine, who only see money for the rich and hell with the lower American class. look at what they are doing to obamacare, these repubs actually have fooled the American people that going without healthcare to avoid bankruptcy and death is a better thing than going with obamacare. this is more than mind controlling, this is turning Americans into zombies. we are allowing big businesses to take our jobs back to china to go back to the bush years of outsourcing jobs, and reversing the trend of in sourcing jobs we have going on right now with the obamacare law, because even international businesses want a piece of the pie that the obamacare massive demand is shelling out.

    December 3, 2013 06:29 am at 6:29 am |
  6. TomInRochNY

    So, Boehner is adament congress leaves on the 13th whether their work is done or not. I guess he doesn't believe in a good days work for a good days pay.

    December 3, 2013 06:58 am at 6:58 am |
  7. Tampa Tim

    Tea baggers will get their wish, and shut down the government again. If the GOP can't make people suffer, they are not happy.

    December 3, 2013 07:29 am at 7:29 am |
  8. Tampa Tim

    Boehner and the boys are going on vacation, so we will have our second republican government shutdown in two months. Impeach Boehner.

    December 3, 2013 07:32 am at 7:32 am |
  9. Name jk. Sfl. GOP CRUZ lee&rubio 24billion dallar LOSS of your tax money conservatives,the garbage of America.

    Don't expect much till the dems take the house back from the incompetent obstructionist GOP . The GOP has done nothing sence 2009!!!!! Why vote for the GOP unless you want nothing done.

    December 3, 2013 08:24 am at 8:24 am |
  10. rs

    The GOP is making a terrible error in even flirting with the idea of ANOTHER government shutdown (and the probability of another vote to crash our nations fiscal credibility by opting for default).
    Their approval rate fell to 22% in October. Perhaps they are eying a perfect zero for all their petty radicalism.

    December 3, 2013 08:32 am at 8:32 am |
  11. Long

    $17 trillion in debt.
    China rolling over Asia because the Obama Administration owes China so much and has no influence. Obama's solution: increase his Chinese Express Card Credit Limit.

    December 3, 2013 08:44 am at 8:44 am |
  12. ghostwriter

    Hope is a 4 letter word.

    December 3, 2013 09:10 am at 9:10 am |
  13. Rudy NYC

    House Republicans have yet to pass a credible budget since the took over in 2011. BTW, to all of my right wing friends, all of those "Ryan Budgets" that repealled the PP&ACA that the House passed ... ... ... those don't count. Those votes were strategic votes, taken only to produce false talking points and to mislead the public.

    December 3, 2013 09:18 am at 9:18 am |
  14. Evergreen

    A Jobs bill and tax reform would solve a lot of the problems. Put people back to work and make sure everyone, including corporations, are paying their fair share.

    December 3, 2013 09:46 am at 9:46 am |
  15. rs

    TomInRochNY

    So, Boehner is adament congress leaves on the 13th whether their work is done or not. I guess he doesn't believe in a good days work for a good days pay.
    __________________
    Agreed- Congressional Republicans are the new "welfare queens".

    December 3, 2013 10:09 am at 10:09 am |
  16. rs

    Tampa Tim

    Tea baggers will get their wish, and shut down the government again. If the GOP can't make people suffer, they are not happy.
    _______________
    Well, Tim the last shutdown and attempted default only brought their approval rating (as a party) down to 22%. If they want the perfect goose egg, they need to keep their anti-American fantasies cookin'.

    December 3, 2013 10:11 am at 10:11 am |
  17. Ol' Yeller

    @Henry Miller
    "No new fees, no new revenues."

    Well certainly that is what a 'good' republicant would say. Look what the sequester has done to the economy so far. It behooves your ilk to lock down any revenues so as to keep the economy down so you can continue to blame Obama for it. You are not so stupid as to understand the basic tried and true methods of adding jobs, increasing growth, and growing the economy (or maybe you are).
    Look how well austerity worked for Europe. Though I know republicants never let any facts or hard data get in the way of their political aspirations, but to cause American people to continue to suffer for political gain is not the pathway to winning elections; despite your beliefs that ALL voters are ignorant as to what is happening and who is causing it....

    December 3, 2013 10:24 am at 10:24 am |
  18. Boomer in Mo

    Milk is already $4+ a gallon. Wait until it goes to $6-$8 a gallon in January because our lazy congressmen can't agree on a farm bill. Talk about a march on Washington. Mad mothers hunting down their elected representatives and screaming at them. I can't wait.

    December 3, 2013 10:34 am at 10:34 am |
  19. tom l

    @Ol Yeller,
    How are you, my friend? Are you aware that revenues to the govt are already at an all time high? And when you talk about the sequester, are the same person that talks about how our deficit is at a low point from the last 5 years due to the sequester? Or do you twist and turn and talk about how harmful it is to our economy? So which one is it?

    Oh, and after the Bush tax cuts, I know you're aware that revenues to the govt went up every single year from 2002-2007. But you knew that already, didn't ya?

    So what are the "tried and true methods of adding jobs"? I can't wait to hear this one. Is it more "shovel ready jobs" that Obama talked about before his stimulus bill passed and then joked afterwards that there is no such thing as "shovel ready jobs"?

    December 3, 2013 10:43 am at 10:43 am |
  20. Malory Archer

    Cut the military budget by 50%. It can be accomplished by simply weeding out fraud, waste and abuse, and by NOT buying equipment the military doesn't even want. Get rid of the "shadow" military who make three times as much as servicemembers for doing a fraction of the work, and whose only job is to create chaos. Close redundant military bases and get us out of nations where we're not wanted. Mission accomplished, Americans save gazillions!

    December 3, 2013 10:51 am at 10:51 am |
  21. Ol' Yeller

    Do- Nothing congress Harry Truman ran against- 388 laws passed.
    Current Congress- 49 laws passed.
    The Tea Baggers have found a new way to suck up government money... get elected by running against the Government and their 'fraudulent waste', then get paid by the taxpayers for basically doing nothing... or in this case, substantially less than the Congress forever labeled as the Do- Nothing Congress. They have even beat the last republicant bunch that sucked us dry last time- Gingrich and his bunch stole taxpayer money in the way of government salaries, but they did not perfect this tactic like these thieving scalawags have.
    Shame on the Tea Baggers- Do Nothing, Know Nothing, Get paid for.... NOTHING!

    December 3, 2013 10:53 am at 10:53 am |