Congress Can Approve a Budget This Year, Lawmakers Say

Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., said there was “enough” time to get a budget hammered out before lawmakers begin campaigning for their 2014 mid-term elections Tuesday. Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., said there was “enough” time to get a budget hammered out before lawmakers begin campaigning for their 2014 mid-term elections Tuesday. Jacquelyn Martin/AP

House Budget Committee lawmakers from both sides of the aisle expressed optimism on Tuesday that Congress would craft a fiscal 2014 budget this year.

It’s possible the House and Senate each will pass a budget resolution by the early fall, paving the way for a conference committee and the regular appropriations process to unfold -- a feat that has eluded Congress in recent years, said House Budget Committee Vice Chairman Tom Price, R-Ga., during a discussion of fiscal issues with reporters at the National Press Club in Washington.

Price said there was “enough” time to get a budget hammered out before lawmakers begin campaigning for their 2014 mid-term elections in late summer and early fall this year. Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., who headlined Tuesday’s event with Price, also said he would put himself “in the hopeful and optimistic camp,” regarding the 2014 budget process. The two lawmakers, however, said political will from both Republicans and Democrats to accomplish those goals is critical.

“The question is really whether or not there is a willingness on all sides to come together and make the necessary compromises,” said Van Hollen, who is ranking member of the Budget Committee. The Maryland Democrat also said the White House will “obviously” have to be “very involved” in the budget process.

“If there’s will on both sides of the aisle to come to an agreement on the budget resolution, then I think we can do it, and Chris touched on that,” Price said.

Price and Van Hollen outlined their respective party’s approaches to deficit reduction, budget goals and spending during Tuesday’s discussion, which in addition to the fiscal 2014 budget outlook, touched on the looming sequester and the continuing resolution set to expire March 27. The representatives offered few details on whether Congress would avoid the automatic, across-the-board spending cuts scheduled to begin March 1, or when they would push through a package to keep the government open after the continuing resolution expires. Price said the timing for extending fiscal 2013 funding was “less important than the level of spending,” though he said he wanted it squared away sooner rather than later. “Whether that comes before the sequester’s dealt with -- if the sequester is dealt with in a way different from current law -- or after, it will certainly come before March 27,” Price said.

Despite their stated optimism in improving the budget process, Van Hollen and Price on Tuesday personified the heart of the argument over current fiscal policy, going back and forth over the correct recipe for deficit reduction -- spending cuts, tax increases, or some combination of the two? Van Hollen said the parties’ disagreement over what constitutes the right approach will continue to dominate the budget discussion; whether the two sides can overcome those issues will determine legislative success, he added.

Both men agreed that budget and deficit reduction battles reflect the larger debate over the proper role of government in the lives of citizens, a likely underlying theme during President Obama’s State of the Union address to the nation on Tuesday night.

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