Optimism Persists for Budget Deal. Is It Real?

Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray, D-Wash., the cochair of the conference committee, returned to Washington Tuesday even with the Senate still in recess. Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray, D-Wash., the cochair of the conference committee, returned to Washington Tuesday even with the Senate still in recess. Carolyn Kaster/AP file photo

With just 10 days before the budget conference committee must report its recommendations to Congress, signs of movement in the ongoing negotiations are appearing in the halls of the Capitol.

Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray, D-Wash., the cochair of the conference committee, returned to Washington Tuesday even with the Senate still in recess, an indication that the talks are ramping up ahead of the committee’s Dec. 13 deadline.

Murray is frequently reaching out to other Democratic conferees. She spoke with House Budget Committee ranking member Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., on Monday night and planned to speak with him again Tuesday night or Wednesday, Van Hollen said.

Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., another conferee, said Tuesday morning that the budget negotiators were getting “close” to a deal that will cover the remainder of fiscal year 2014 and potentially fiscal year 2015 as well. “I think they’re down to the last few items.… They’ve narrowed the gap fairly substantially since they started this, and they’re to be commended for that,” Cole said.

But Van Hollen poured cold water on warm depictions of the negotiations coming from some of his Republican colleagues Tuesday, noting that there is still no deal on the table.

“Right now, the negotiations work by subtraction—in other words, people are taking things off the table. So, if you define success by narrowing the discussion, I guess that’s progress,” Van Hollen said Tuesday. “But you still have to resolve the narrow issues and that’s not resolved. The big issue on the sequester is coming to some agreement on the offsets. And there’s been no agreement on the offsets.”

There is clearly movement, and members on both sides say that’s positive in itself. However, the specific content of the discussions continues to be a closely held secret.

Van Hollen and Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., the vice chairman of the House Budget Committee, walked into the House chamber together on Tuesday and stood in the back of the Democratic section, discussing a potential budget agreement for several minutes, Van Hollen confirmed. But he laughed when pressed for information about what was said.

Price said that he’s “very” confident the committee will strike a deal, but would not offer details on how or when it would happen.

As speculation about a possible deal has ramped up in recent days, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., has once again taken to wearing his headphones around the Capitol, telling shouting reporters—with a smile—that he’s unable to hear them.

“I got nothing to say to you guys. But have a nice day, all right?” Ryan told a pack of reporters Tuesday morning after he emerged from a meeting with House GOP leaders.

Among the signs of movement on a deal: Negotiators have begun focusing on how to package a potential agreement legislatively in a way that can avoid any last-second roadblocks to passage.

Under the current strategy being discussed, if the 29 conferees agree on a path forward—and a majority of representatives on the panel from both parties would have to approve it—Congress could pass a budget “blueprint” in the form of a “conference report.” That agreement does not have to be signed by the president, but it will be pitched as Congress having reached a deal to avoid another government shutdown on Jan. 15.

But that isn’t the whole story. Over the Christmas break, appropriators from both chambers will devise their spending bills—either as separate measures or a larger, omnibus bill—for anticipated passage when Congress reconvenes in early January. That would also be the vehicle for undoing the next round of sequester cuts.

It is likely that a second bill will also be devised laying out new fees or fee hikes to replace the sequester spending reductions. The concern is that some lawmakers who approved of the budget “blueprint” may not support separate legislation increasing fees, particularly those that hit certain favored constituencies, leaving appropriators without the funds to carry out the larger budget agreement.

Democrats hope that House Republican leaders do not want to see anxiety build in the coming weeks over the potential for another government shutdown, which also might detract from the momentum of their attacks on the administration over the launch of the health care law.

Despite the talk of a potential agreement, House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., on Tuesday expressed skepticism, asserting that Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and other House Republicans have an established pattern of walking away from deals.

“Their energy towards getting a budget deal seems to be [at a] minimum. I hope that’s not the case. I hope we move forward on it,” Hoyer said.

Hoyer pointed to a potential short-term continuing resolution, currently under discussion among House Republicans if the budget negotiators fail to reach a deal. Few details have emerged as to how long the CR would last, and Cole said Tuesday that Boehner has not made a final decision on whether he will pursue a CR at all. But Cole warned that many in his caucus will not be comfortable heading home for the holidays without one.

“I think there’s a pretty strong sentiment in our conference that we don’t want there to be a lot of discussion over the holidays about a potential government shutdown,” he said.

Democrats are characterizing a CR vote in December as a “symbol of defeat,” in Van Hollen’s words. Both he and Hoyer said Tuesday that they would oppose a continuing resolution, arguing that it would lock in sequestration cuts.

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by Brocade

    Best of 2016 Federal Forum eBook

    Earlier this summer, Federal and tech industry leaders convened to talk security, machine learning, network modernization, DevOps, and much more at the 2016 Federal Forum. This eBook includes a useful summary highlighting the best content shared at the 2016 Federal Forum to help agencies modernize their network infrastructure.

  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    GBC Flash Poll Series: Merger & Acquisitions

    Download this GBC Flash Poll to learn more about federal perspectives on the impact of industry consolidation.

  • Sponsored by One Identity

    One Nation Under Guard: Securing User Identities Across State and Local Government

    In 2016, the government can expect even more sophisticated threats on the horizon, making it all the more imperative that agencies enforce proper identity and access management (IAM) practices. In order to better measure the current state of IAM at the state and local level, Government Business Council (GBC) conducted an in-depth research study of state and local employees.

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    The Next Federal Evolution of Cloud

    This GBC report explains the evolution of cloud computing in federal government, and provides an outlook for the future of the cloud in government IT.

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    A DevOps Roadmap for the Federal Government

    This GBC Report discusses how DevOps is steadily gaining traction among some of government's leading IT developers and agencies.

  • Sponsored by LTC Partners, administrators of the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program

    Approaching the Brink of Federal Retirement

    Approximately 10,000 baby boomers are reaching retirement age per day, and a growing number of federal employees are preparing themselves for the next chapter of their lives. Learn how to tackle the challenges that today's workforce faces in laying the groundwork for a smooth and secure retirement.

  • Sponsored by Hewlett Packard Enterprise

    Cyber Defense 101: Arming the Next Generation of Government Employees

    Read this issue brief to learn about the sector's most potent challenges in the new cyber landscape and how government organizations are building a robust, threat-aware infrastructure

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    GBC Issue Brief: Cultivating Digital Services in the Federal Landscape

    Read this GBC issue brief to learn more about the current state of digital services in the government, and how key players are pushing enhancements towards a user-centric approach.

  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    Joint Enterprise Licensing Agreements

    Read this eBook to learn how defense agencies can achieve savings and efficiencies with an Enterprise Software Agreement.

  • Sponsored by Cloudera

    Government Forum Content Library

    Get all the essential resources needed for effective technology strategies in the federal landscape.


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.