Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
March 31, 2015

Budget Deal Looks Likely, but Passage Uncertain

Ryan, left, and Murray are likely to announce a modest budget deal in the coming days. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Ryan, left, and Murray are likely to announce a modest budget deal in the coming days. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Budget negotiators are nearing a deal that could ease the way for leaders to avert another government shutdown before the 2014 elections, but only if rank and file — particularly in the House — buy into the agreement.

Senate Budget Chairwoman Patty Murray, D-Wash., and House Budget Chairman Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., are expected to announce a framework in the coming days that would set a top-line number for appropriators higher than the current sequester levels but lower than what Democrats have previously demanded.

According to sources, the increased spending would be offset by less controversial pay-fors, including spectrum sales and some mandatory health care cuts. The two lawmakers have been meeting regularly, including a session Wednesday. Murray attended despite the Senate’s recess.

But many top leadership aides in the Capitol are skeptical that any agreement between Murray and Ryan can pass the House, and those aides feel largely in the dark about what might happen after the deal is struck, with or without successful votes on it in both chambers. Republican leaders have vowed they will not shut down the government again, but how Congress will keep it open remains up in the air.

Appropriators could move forward with the agreed-on top-line numbers without full congressional approval of the Murray-Ryan proposal and spend the four weeks between an announcement and the Jan. 15 government shutdown deadline to put together an ominbus spending package. But they would have to do so under the assumption that enough House Republicans would break from party hardliners and join House Democrats to pass the spending measure.

The other alternative would be to pass a full-year continuing resolution at current spending levels, an action GOP appropriators and Democrats want to avoid.  But such a move could be most reflective of political reality. Senate aides in both parties insist that if the House can pass a CR at current levels, Democrats will have no choice but to approve it, pinned between their previous support of the Budget Control Act and fear of being blamed for a shutdown.

Amid widespread pessimism about Congress’ ability to function normally, appropriators have remained optimistic about their ability to get spending bills done if an agreement is reached, even in the short time frame. Congress is tentatively scheduled for one work week before Christmas and another in January before its deadline.

“I don’t think there’s a need for a CR now,” House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers, R-Ky., said this week. “I believe we can do an omnibus bill that is done by [Jan.] 15.

“We’ve cleared out some underbrush,” Rogers said of some of the legwork that’s been done by his committee in concert with Senate Appropriations Chairwoman Barbara A. Mikulski, D-Md. “We’re ready to go.”

At a minimum, an agreement between Ryan and Murray would represent sign-off from most congressional leaders — though Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has said that any spending level above the BCA mark would be unacceptable. Both Ryan and Murray are close with their respective leaders.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., confirmed late Tuesday in an interview with Las Vegas NBC affiliate KSNV that Ryan and Murray were closing in on an agreement and reiterated his faith in his chairwoman.

Patty Murray’s one of my favorite people,” Reid said. “She’s somebody who I have great admiration for. If anyone can get it done, she can, and I keep in touch with her. And it is close, but close only counts in horseshoes, and so I would hope — the government’s not going to close — and I would hope, I would hope that we can get rid of sequestration. We don’t need a meat ax. We need a scalpel.”

Though both Murray and Ryan have been praised for their efforts, it’s unclear how many House Republican votes Ryan could secure for an omnibus spending package at the higher spending level. Those who would support such a deal — such as appropriators and moderates — would have been there for Rogers and leaders no matter what. The GOP force behind the shutdown was not the establishment, but rather tea-party-inspired members who feel  beholden to their conservative base. So the key question over the next few weeks is whether the shutdown changed the political dynamics for the party based on a temporary dip in the polls.

Several aides across chambers and parties don’t know the answer to that question but doubt that much has changed for the tea party contingent. If the status quo prevails, the budget conference could become a meaningless footnote to this Congress, and a stopgap measure will be the only way to avoid another politically damaging shutdown.

Niels Lesniewski and Emma Dumain contributed to this report.

  • markbuehner

    So… Ryan is willing to undue the sequester cuts in exchange for more fantasy healthcare cuts that everyone knows will be undone later. This is a win for fiscal sanity how?

  • DHFabian

    America’s economic discussion overall is desperately confused. Waving the banner for the middle class alone is almost mandatory (esp. for libs). The middle class is not a synonym for “ordinary people,” but is a specific economic group that doesn’t have to worry about the minimum wage and food stamps. We insist that those low-wage workers getting by on $20k per year are suffering in severe poverty, yet we are the same people who insisted that those getting by on $3k to $4k annual welfare aid were living in intolerable comfort. Not everyone can work, due to health or circumstances, and there are no longer jobs for all who need one. This generation got brutal on the poor. The job market has changed dramatically, as we’ve shipped out the bulk of our manufacturing jobs, and then wiped out poverty relief while transitioning to short-term/temp jobs. Millions of low-wage workers are a single job loss from losing everything, with no way back up. How do you get a job when you no longer have a home address, phone, bus fare? If you become too ill to work?

    • Gmama

      When the system is overburdened by people who are able bodied and overweight, who have no intention of working but still get all kinds of benefits from phones to multiple sources of food aid, housing, false disability, etc, the people who will suffer the most are the people who legitimately need our help. Add to this an influx of low-skilled illegals and wages are depressed even further.

      I repeat there are people who cannot work because of disability, we have an obligation to help them. Unfortunately the government wastes so much money and gives away so much more that we are going broke, and those people will loose.

    • owenmagoo

      When was there a time when people were not a ‘single job loss from losing everything’?

      ‘You don’t work, you can’t pay the bills’ is pretty simple slice of logic.

    • PDQuig

      “Shipped out the bulk of our manufacturing jobs”? Darn those evil corporations for wanting to survive in the face of global competition. Don’t they realize that their reason for existence is to provide high-paying jobs for Americans–whether that causes them to fail or not?

      And darn those two billion Chinese and Indians who have risen out of poverty by doing the work Americans used to do? Don’t they realize that there lot in life is to starve and die young so that Americans can avoid the consequences of the collapse of their education system and cultural rot?

      I hate it when that happens.

  • bflat879

    If the House had any leadership, the Democrats would be worried. Now, who knows?

  • A Smith

    Anything to distract from Obamacare, and figure a way to blame the GOP for something, anything.

  • owenmagoo

    Federal budget 2009: 3.518 trillion.
    Federal budget 2012: 3.537 trillion.
    See what happens when the dems don’t have the house…

    We’d be well over 4 trillion a year, if the dems hadn’t choked on their power. The sequester is just the cherry on top of a complete budget freeze.

    Would still love to hear how the state department budget went from 11.4 billion, requested by bush/rice for 2009, to over 50 billion under Kerry. If the dems want some walk around money, outside of a permanent budget, in exchange for cutting the state dept budget in half, I’m game.

    My unofficial line in the sand is 3.6 trillion. My fellow conservatives will not be so forgiving.

    • owenmagoo

      Money in the couch cushions?
      The draw down from Afghanistan…
      It must have turned out better than Iraq if Obama is trying to negotiate a permanent force there. Funny how candidate Obama said McCain wanted to stay in Iraq a hundred years, but winds up being the president who sets us up for a 100 years in Afghanistan.

      The GOP should be magnanimous…no budget increase, but dems can have the peacetime(?) dividend from their war.

      Truth be told, the lobbyists have seen this coming and are already planning the spending. Ryan caving on a budget deal is just his way of saying that the people who professionally fleece the taxpayers have gotten to him.

  • bo ure

    Another government shutdown! Oh, goodie gum drops. We’ll get another demonstration how overgrown they’ve become, watch barons come out of the woodwork defending their fiefdoms. From us! Another show of how they suddenly work overtime to make things more difficult, or else have a vacation. And get paid for it all. Yes! Do. Let’s see more of that. Then we see again with our own eyes again why having pets like them is way too ridiculously expensive and finally not worth it. Go away.

  • Benjamin Dover

    Article 1, Section 8 of the United States Constitution empowers Congress to borrow money on the credit of the United States.

  • Benjamin Dover

    Since science tends to trace today’s events to yesterday, it can easily lead to the false notion that our motivations and actions result from prior events and are therefore not our own responsibility.

  • Chumba Wumba

    Article 1, Section 8 of the United States Constitution empowers Congress to borrow money on the credit of the United States.

  • Chumba Wumba

    While the usefulness of goods, services, and natural resources tends to be self-evident, the merit of one’s efforts can only be determined through subjective evaluation by others.

  • Liberalism Is Nonsense

    Obama’s threats of default hurt Americans. And he doesn’t seem to care.

  • Liberalism Is Nonsense

    It is impossible to understand our complex, distributed, technologically-driven modern civilization without recognizing that each of us is ignorant regarding almost every facet of it.

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