Attention Shifts to House-Senate Budget Conference

Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray, D-Wash. Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray, D-Wash. J. Scott Applewhite/AP File Photo

The Senate is out on recess, but the House returns to session Tuesday for the start of what could be a bellwether week to gauge the political tone in Washington for the rest of the year.

Much of the attention is already shifting to focus on the formal start of negotiations in the joint House-Senate budget conference. And the action will pick up in committees and on the floor as well. Here are some highlights of the upcoming agenda from National Journal. Click here for more. 

BUDGET and FINANCE

Finding Compromise

Last week's deal to extend the debt ceiling through Feb. 7 also restarted funding for government agencies, but only through Jan. 15. However, it also called for a bipartisan, bicameral budget conference to get to work on finding compromise on a longer-term spending plan, at least one to last through the end of the current fiscal year on Sept. 30.

The new panel's assignment is a tough one, given the wide differences in the budgets passed separately by the two chambers. Those extend not just to the respective levels of proposed spending, but to the treatment of entitlement programs, the future of the sequester cuts, and the prospect for taxes or other new revenues.

The conferees are due to issue a report on or around Dec. 13. They will be led by Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray, D-Wash., along with House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., who did not even vote in favor of the deal that sets this all in motion. This week, as the Senate is out, staffs are preparing for next week's not-yet-scheduled first official meetings, and conferees are talking by phone, if not in person.

For now, questions abound over relatively simple matters like whether their deliberations will be public—or even perhaps televised. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., is among those already calling for live coverage.

"If that table is closed down, if you are excluded from that, if there isn't live coverage," said Pelosi last week, "then it is hard to see how a product can come out of it that we can present to our members to say it was an honest debate.

"And you know what is contingent upon it, of course, is reopening government in January and lifting the debt ceiling in February," she said.

DEFENSE

Spotlight on NSA

As the Obama administration's online and phone surveillance programs continue to get scrutiny with new revelations—including that the agency is collecting hundreds of millions of online contacts and "buddies" from instant messaging services—the House Intelligence Committee is holding a hearing on Thursday to look into National Security Agency activities.

Separately, as the recent deal to alleviate the government shutdown and lift the debt ceiling did not remove sequestration, a House Armed Services subcommittee is holding a hearing on the impacts of a continuing resolution and sequestration on defense acquisition and modernization.

Defense and military officials from the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force will be testifying on Wednesday.

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