Without Much Progress, Some Budget Conferees Already Seek Plan B

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WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 19: U.S. Senator Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) (2nd L) speaks to members of the media as Senate Minority Leader Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) (R), Senator John Barrasso (R-WY) (L) and Senator John Thune (R-SD) (3rd L) listen after the Senate Republican weekly policy luncheon November 19, 2013 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. Senate Republicans participated in the luncheon to discuss Republican agendas. 
National Journal
Sarah Mimms
Nov. 20, 2013, 5:15 p.m.

With few signs of pro­gress emer­ging from the budget con­fer­ence com­mit­tee’s ne­go­ti­ations, at least two of its mem­bers have already be­gun dis­cuss­ing a Plan B.

Sens. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., and Ron John­son, R-Wis., both sit on the con­fer­ence com­mit­tee — and they’re also mem­bers of a work­ing group that Sen­ate Minor­ity Lead­er Mitch Mc­Con­nell has formed to dis­cuss al­tern­at­ives in case the budget con­fer­ence fails to reach an agree­ment.

“I think the hope would be that all mem­bers of the budget con­fer­ence are work­ing to get a deal in this budget con­fer­ence,” one Sen­ate Demo­crat­ic aide said, when in­formed of Ayotte’s and John­son’s in­volve­ment in the Mc­Con­nell dis­cus­sions.

But Ayotte ar­gued that her par­ti­cip­a­tion should not be taken as a sign that she be­lieves the budget con­fer­ence com­mit­tee will fail. “I think it just shows you that we want solu­tions and we want to make sure that the gov­ern­ment’s not shut down again,” she said.

For his part, John­son said that he is still hope­ful for a con­fer­ence deal but that he and the work­ing group are en­gaged in dis­cus­sions to find al­tern­at­ive ways to keep the gov­ern­ment open. “There’s an aw­ful lot that we don’t agree on,” John­son said of the budget ne­go­ti­ations. “That’s con­tin­ued to cre­ate these im­passes where we haven’t been able to really reach agree­ments.”

The con­fer­ence com­mit­tee has un­til Dec. 13 to make re­com­mend­a­tions to Con­gress, and the cur­rent con­tinu­ing res­ol­u­tion will keep the gov­ern­ment run­ning un­til Jan. 15. There­after, ab­sent a fund­ing vehicle, an­oth­er shut­down could oc­cur.

Ayotte noted that the dis­cus­sions among Re­pub­lic­an sen­at­ors are still in the gen­er­al stages and the group has sev­er­al more meet­ings planned. A Mc­Con­nell aide ad­ded that no spe­cif­ic plan has yet been put on the table to keep the gov­ern­ment open past Jan. 15.

That Ayotte and John­son are already dis­cuss­ing al­tern­at­ives also sig­nals just how much a po­ten­tial deal re­lies upon private ne­go­ti­ations between the two chairs, Rep. Paul Ry­an, R-Wis., and Sen. Patty Mur­ray, D-Wash. Asked about a pos­sible con­fer­ence deal last week, Ayotte spoke about the com­mit­tee of which she is a mem­ber in the third per­son.

“Ob­vi­ously, we hope that the budget con­fer­ence is able to come up with a res­ol­u­tion,” she said. “But either way, I know that Lead­er Mc­Con­nell is com­mit­ted that he doesn’t want to shut the gov­ern­ment down, so I thought it was a pos­it­ive dir­ec­tion that he was get­ting people to­geth­er to talk about it.”

Demo­crats do not have a sim­il­ar group, ac­cord­ing to Rep. Chris Van Hol­len of Mary­land, a mem­ber of the con­fer­ence com­mit­tee, who has put the odds of a deal by the Dec. 13 dead­line at “50-50.” But he was crit­ic­al of Mc­Con­nell’s ef­forts.

“That’s maybe a re­flec­tion that Sen­at­or Mc­Con­nell doesn’t have con­fid­ence in the pro­cess,” Van Hol­len said.

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