Conference Committee Charged With Budget Compromise

One of the two items Republicans can claim credit for in the fiscal deal is the agreement for House and Senate negotiators to meet in a budget conference committee. But what happens if this committee does not produce a result by its December 13th deadline? Probably nothing. There is no consequence beyond having to abide by spending levels already set by the 2011 debt-limit deal — a level Republicans say they want to preserve, anyway.

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This is MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. Good morning. I'm David Greene.

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And I'm Renee Montagne. With the federal government now open for business, the talk is about talking across the aisle. For most of this year, Republicans and Democrats were in a standoff over the budget, with Republicans in the House and Democrats in the Senate unable to get together on how to spend and save federal dollars.

But as part of this week's deal, congressional leaders committed themselves to finding a compromise on a budget, and their deadline: Friday, the 13th of December. NPR's David Welna reports.

DAVID WELNA, BYLINE: Speaking at the White House yesterday, President Obama declared it was hardly enough just to reopen the government and keep paying its bills.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: In the coming days and weeks, we should sit down and pursue a balanced approach to a responsible budget, a budget that grows our economy faster, and shrinks our long-term deficits further.

WELNA: In fact, such an effort had already gotten underway at a breakfast in the Capitol yesterday morning.

REP. PAUL RYAN: Hello, everybody.

WELNA: Emerging from that breakfast, Paul Ryan and Patty Murray - the respective chairmen of the House and Senate Budget Committees - said they'd already reached agreement on one point.

RYAN: We had a very good conversation.

SEN. PATTY MURRAY: Chairman Ryan is exactly right. We had a good conversation over breakfast this morning.

WELNA: Ryan announced that the 30 House and Senate members appointed this week to a conference committee were determined to end the budget impasse.

RYAN: We're going back to regular order. This is the budget process. The House passes a budget, the Senate passes a budget; you come together to try to and reconcile the differences. That's the way we're supposed to do things.

WELNA: Once again, the Senate's Murray was in agreement.

MURRAY: Chairman Ryan knows I'm not going to vote for his budget. I know that he's not going to vote for mine. We're going to find the common ground between our two budgets that we both can vote on, and that's our goal.

WELNA: Murray also co-chaired a bipartisan, bicameral panel set up during the previous debt ceiling crisis two years ago. It was called the supercommittee, and it was charged with trimming more than $2 trillion worth of projected deficits over 10 years. Here she was in 2011, at its opening session.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MURRAY: This committee has the opportunity to show the American people we can still come together, put politics aside, and solve a problem that's plaguing our country.

WELNA: But the supercommittee collapsed over Republicans' refusal to accept any of the revenue increases sought by Democrats. Instead, across-the-board spending cuts known as sequestration kicked in. Maryland House Democrat Chris Van Hollen was on that panel. He's on the new budget conference committee as well. He says he's often asked why things should turn out differently this time.

REP. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN: Nobody can guarantee success, but what we can say is that if we don't make the effort and get together and talk, that would guarantee a failure.

WELNA: The deadline for agreeing on a budget comes a month before a new round of sequestration cuts are due. Maya MacGuineas heads the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. She says the prospect of more sequestration should focus the minds of budget negotiators on a deal.

MAYA MACGUINEAS: I think there's a relatively good chance that they'll come up with something that may be replacing part of the dumb sequester cuts with things that are smarter.

WELNA: Speaking at a Washington conference this week, former defense secretary Leon Panetta said the latest budget crisis should have a sobering effect on negotiators.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

LEON PANETTA: Hopefully, having been through this experience of the shutdown and the implications of not increasing the debt limit will be a sufficient-enough incentive for them to now turn to governing.

WELNA: But budget expert Stan Collender, of Qorvis Communications, doubts budget conferees will feel pressured to get a deal just to avert more showdowns.

STAN COLLENDER: And in fact, a lot of people are now thinking in the wake of the - or in the aftermath situation we had over the last couple of months, that the last thing a lot of members of Congress are going to try to do is produce another confrontation that could lead to a shutdown, only because the politics will be so bad.

WELNA: Collender expects continued GOP resistance to any new revenues will undermine this latest quest for a budget deal.

David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol.

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