Budget Negotiators Agree on One Thing: Avoiding Another Shutdown

Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, has introduced a bill to end government shutdowns. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, has introduced a bill to end government shutdowns. J. Scott Applewhite/AP

Congressional budget negotiators on Wednesday attempted to temper expectations for a big deal, and lawmakers dug in along party lines on the issue of continuing sequestration.

The bicameral budget conference committee, put into place as a condition of reopening the government after the recent 16-day shutdown, held its first official meeting Wednesday and each of the 29 members spoke on the need to reduce the federal deficit. While Democrats and Republicans largely disagreed on how to get there, they largely agreed on one idea: think small.

“I don’t think we’re going to do a grand bargain here,” said Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio. “Let’s at least do a good bargain for the American people.”

All the lawmakers agreed on the need to avoid another government shutdown by reaching a deal to fund government through September, or the remainder of fiscal 2014. The current spending bill only keeps government open through Jan. 15.

Lawmakers expressed bipartisan agreement on the general principle of ending “governing by crisis,” with Democrats frequently citing the Standard and Poor’s estimate that the shutdown cost the U.S. economy $24 billion. Despite the optimism, Republicans said Congress should prepare for the possibility of the parties not reaching an agreement by passing Portman’s End Government Shutdowns Act, which would enable a continuing resolution to automatically kick in if Congress does not pass a new spending bill. 

While both sides agreed on the need to compromise, the details remained murky.

“I’m ready to make some concessions to make a deal,” said Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., the Senate Budget Committee chairwoman and the Democrats’ lead negotiator.

She added, however, that sequestration must be replaced. Democrats throughout the opening conference meeting echoed the need to undo the automatic, across-the-board spending cuts, calling them bad policy and harmful to the economy.

Republicans recognized sequestration’s damage to some extent, but continued to back the policy because of its effect on the deficit.

“It’s not ideal, it’s not the best, but without replacing it with better savings, we must keep sequestration,” said Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss.

Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., added, “A little pain now is better than a lot of pain later.”

In keeping with standard partisan rhetoric, Democrats consistently spoke of the need to raise revenues by closing loopholes in the tax system while Republicans discussed the need to make cuts to mandatory spending programs like Social Security and Medicare.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., recognized this divide, but maintained the negotiators could still agree on some things.

“Let’s pledge to do this: let’s not shut the government down,” Graham said. “We’re on different political planets but we can agree on that.” Graham added that while the conference may fall short of striking a deal that overhauls the tax code and reforms entitlement spending, it should at least agree on a modest spending bill.

In that, the conference’s chairman, Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., found comfort.

“I think from both sides of the aisle we have seen sign of agreement,” Ryan said, “and that’s a great start.”

The committee will hold its next meeting in two weeks, on Nov. 13. The conference has until Dec. 13 to strike a deal and make its recommendation to the full House and Senate. 

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 G Suite

    Cross-Agency Teamwork, Anytime and Anywhere

    Dan McCrae, director of IT service delivery division, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

  • Data-Centric Security vs. Database-Level Security

    Database-level encryption had its origins in the 1990s and early 2000s in response to very basic risks which largely revolved around the theft of servers, backup tapes and other physical-layer assets. As noted in Verizon’s 2014, Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR)1, threats today are far more advanced and dangerous.

  • Federal IT Applications: Assessing Government's Core Drivers

    In order to better understand the current state of external and internal-facing agency workplace applications, Government Business Council (GBC) and Riverbed undertook an in-depth research study of federal employees. Overall, survey findings indicate that federal IT applications still face a gamut of challenges with regard to quality, reliability, and performance management.

  • PIV- I And Multifactor Authentication: The Best Defense for Federal Government Contractors

    This white paper explores NIST SP 800-171 and why compliance is critical to federal government contractors, especially those that work with the Department of Defense, as well as how leveraging PIV-I credentialing with multifactor authentication can be used as a defense against cyberattacks

  • Toward A More Innovative Government

    This research study aims to understand how state and local leaders regard their agency’s innovation efforts and what they are doing to overcome the challenges they face in successfully implementing these efforts.

  • From Volume to Value: UK’s NHS Digital Provides U.S. Healthcare Agencies A Roadmap For Value-Based Payment Models

    The U.S. healthcare industry is rapidly moving away from traditional fee-for-service models and towards value-based purchasing that reimburses physicians for quality of care in place of frequency of care.

  • GBC Flash Poll: Is Your Agency Safe?

    Federal leaders weigh in on the state of information security


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