Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., cochair of the conference committee.

Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., cochair of the conference committee. Charlie Neibergall/AP

Partisans Clash Over Strategy on Budget Talks

Conference committee is under pressure to come up with a proposal before its Dec. 13 deadline.

Top House Democrats on Tuesday warned Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan not to bow to the pressures from his conference and run out the clock on budget talks for a better negotiating position amid shutdown pressures in January.

But House conservatives argue that they too want a deal as soon as possible in order to give appropriators in both chambers enough time to craft spending bills for fiscal year 2014.

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer called on Ryan, who is cochairing the budget conference committee, to put a “serious proposal on the table” ahead of the committee’s Dec. 13 deadline.

“Paul Ryan is a leader. Paul Ryan ought to lead and not follow his caucus down a road which would lead to shutdown,” Hoyer said. “That would be irresponsible and harmful. And I hope he doesn’t do that.”

William Allison, a spokesman for Ryan, said, “Chairman Ryan is committed to finding common ground. He hopes both parties can work together to cut spending in a smarter way.”

Hoyer and other Democrats on Tuesday pointed to a letter House Appropriations Chairman Harold Rogers, R-Ky., and other leading Republicans sent to Ryan and his cochair, Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., on Monday, saying that if an agreement cannot be reached “by Dec. 2 at the latest,” the alternatives could lead to “extremely damaging repercussions.”

“It’s now time for the Republican budget conferees to ... listen to their own members and move forward, because right now they appear to be trying to run out the clock to keep those very deep, immediate, and arbitrary cuts someplace that will result in job losses in this country,” said Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., one of the budget conferees.

Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., who sits on both the conference and Appropriations committees, expressed similar sentiments. “We understand what we have to do,” she said. “The question is, [are] Paul Ryan and Speaker [John] Boehner listening? Do they hear what the appropriators are saying … or are they just going to run out the clock?”

Some Democrats are using Rogers’s letter to argue that a split is forming within the Republican Party between those, including Rogers, who desire a solution before the holidays and others, led by Ryan, who are trying to hold off on a deal as long as possible.

Murray pushed back on that assessment in an interview Tuesday with National Journal Daily, arguing that Ryan is working hard with her to find a solution to the current budget impasse. “I would say that he is definitely trying to work with me to find a path forward to replace sequestration in a responsible way,” she said. “The question remains whether he can put the final period on it at the end of the day.”

Whatever the outcome, conservatives are hardly united around any run-out-the-clock strategy. In fact, according to several GOP lawmakers, conservatives are openly embracing Rogers’s sense of urgency.

“I think we all want the same thing: Let’s find common ground, and quickly,” said Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C. “I think the majority of us agree that we need to find common ground now.”

Rep. Tom Graves, R-Ga., who serves on Appropriations and has acted as a liaison between Rogers and the Republican Study Committee, said the chairman’s message to Ryan and Murray is simple: “Give us a number to work from.”

Graves added: “$967 [billion] is the law, and we’ve appropriated to that number in our committee. The Senate just doesn’t seem to agree with that. They have a different reading of the law.... We just want to know the size of our slice of the pie.”

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle seem frustrated with a lack of visible progress on the part of the conference committee, especially after it took months to appoint conferees. Appropriators especially seem agitated with the committee’s inability to deliver a fiscal framework.

“Finally everybody’s together in the room. Well, do your job,” Graves said. “Tell us where we need to work toward and we’ll get it done.”