Curtain to Open on Budget Conference — Then Close

WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 17: Members of the bipartisan budget conference (L-R) Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) and Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) discuss their initial meeting at the U.S. Capitol October 17, 2013 in Washington, DC. Congress voted last night to fund the federal budget and increase the nation's debt limit, ending a 16-day government shutdown. 
National Journal
Billy House
See more stories about...
Billy House
Oct. 29, 2013, 6:06 p.m.

The cur­tain will rise Wed­nes­day on the long-awaited House and Sen­ate budget con­fer­ence, with 29 law­makers set to hold their in­aug­ur­al meet­ing — com­plete with open­ing state­ments — in full view of the cam­er­as.

But after this open­ing per­form­ance, ex­pect the cur­tain to be lowered again.

In fact, little in the way of ac­tu­al ne­go­ti­at­ing is ex­pec­ted to be car­ried out in the pub­lic spot­light. In­stead, the con­fer­ence com­mit­tee is ul­ti­mately ex­pec­ted to join the su­per com­mit­tee and a long list of com­mis­sions and oth­er groups that have tried to cut deals be­hind closed doors.

And that pro­spect is already up­set­ting some.

“A budget is a mor­al doc­u­ment, and it is im­port­ant that any ne­go­ti­ations hap­pen in the light of day,” said Alex Lawson, ex­ec­ut­ive dir­ect­or of the ad­vocacy group So­cial Se­cur­ity Works. “Mem­bers of Con­gress are sent to D.C. to rep­res­ent the will of the people, not to ne­go­ti­ate secret deals.”

Open or closed, the com­mit­tee faces a dif­fi­cult task, with a mid-Decem­ber dead­line and par­tis­an ten­sions peaked. Law­makers are tasked with find­ing com­prom­ise between two widely di­ver­gent spend­ing plans for fisc­al 2014 passed by the House and Sen­ate. Any re­con­cili­ation would have to be ap­proved by both cham­bers.

Already, ex­pect­a­tions are low among both Re­pub­lic­ans and Demo­crats, and the pro­spect of a “grand bar­gain” on 10-year de­fi­cit-re­duc­tion goals has been largely dis­missed. Moreover, no budget con­fer­ence has reached an agree­ment in a di­vided Con­gress since 1986, when Mike Tyson was heavy­weight cham­pi­on and Mag­num P.I. was on tele­vi­sion.

Of­fi­cially, the con­fer­ence com­mit­tee has a re­spons­ib­il­ity to come up with re­com­mend­a­tions to the full House and Sen­ate by Dec. 13. The gov­ern­ment is be­ing fun­ded now un­der the tem­por­ary spend­ing bill ap­proved earli­er this month to end the shut­down. That ex­pires on Jan. 15, and some new fund­ing mech­an­ism will be needed.

As of Tues­day, no de­cisions had been made about the com­mit­tee’s pub­lic sched­ule bey­ond Wed­nes­day, ac­cord­ing to spokes­men for both House Budget Com­mit­tee Chair­man Paul Ry­an, R-Wis., and Sen­ate Budget Com­mit­tee Chair­wo­man Patty Mur­ray, D-Wash. Much of Wed­nes­day’s open­ing ses­sion, which starts at 10 a.m., is an­ti­cip­ated to be eaten up by pre­writ­ten state­ments from the con­fer­ees re­gard­ing what they hope or think can be ac­com­plished.

“Ob­vi­ously we’ll have a hear­ing, and people will lay out their po­s­i­tions, and then we’ll try look for areas of com­prom­ise “¦ and ob­vi­ously there will have to be con­ver­sa­tions tak­ing place,” said Rep. Chris Van Hol­len of Mary­land, a con­fer­ee and the top Demo­crat on the House Budget Com­mit­tee.

In­deed, some ar­gue that the con­fer­ence has a bet­ter chance work­ing out­side the pub­lic glare.

“It sounds a bit un­demo­crat­ic, but mov­ing ne­go­ti­ations be­hind closed doors prob­ably im­proves the chances that budget con­fer­ence ne­go­ti­at­ors will be able to reach an agree­ment,” said Sarah Bind­er, an ex­pert on Con­gress at the Brook­ings In­sti­tu­tion.

“On any tough policy is­sue, le­gis­lat­ive deal-mak­ing al­most re­quires secrecy. That’s the only way to get law­makers to com­mit to po­ten­tially con­tro­ver­sial ele­ments of a broad­er deal,” Bind­er said.

Rep. Frank Lu­cas, R-Okla., who will chair the sep­ar­ate House and Sen­ate con­fer­ence also start­ing Wed­nes­day on the farm-bill reau­thor­iz­a­tion, said those ne­go­ti­ations will fol­low a sim­il­ar format. There will be the first ses­sion in which con­fer­ees make open­ing state­ments, and then “we’ll get to work” in ses­sions that may not be so pub­lic.

“After the photo op and open­ing state­ments, it is a good thing in my mind that the private con­ver­sa­tions pro­ceed between the two chair­per­sons,” said Wil­li­am Hoag­land, a seni­or vice pres­id­ent at the Bi­par­tis­an Policy Cen­ter, of the budget con­fer­ence. The former Sen­ate Budget Com­mit­tee staff dir­ect­or and GOP aide ad­ded, “It is in those private dis­cus­sions “¦ where the work will get done if there is to be an agree­ment.”

Steve Pruitt, a former House Budget Com­mit­tee Demo­crat­ic staff dir­ect­or who is now a man­aging part­ner at Watts Part­ners, offered, “It’s prob­ably best that they go be­hind closed doors, at least at the be­gin­ning, so they can see if they can de­vel­op the needed chem­istry to reach an agree­ment versus play­ing this ex­er­cise out in pub­lic — where they are duty-bound to stick to their re­spect­ive le­gis­lat­ive body and par­tis­an scripts.”

But le­gis­lat­ive bod­ies across the coun­try, from city coun­cils to county boards, man­age to pass budgets in full pub­lic view, and some say Con­gress should, too.

“We don’t want this to turn in­to a show tri­al, where every­body show­boats and plays to the cam­er­as,” said Steve El­lis, vice pres­id­ent of Tax­pay­ers for Com­mon Sense. “But the work of this com­mit­tee does need to be pub­lic to a great ex­tent.”

What We're Following See More »
UTAH REPUBLICAN
Former Sen. Bob Bennett Dies at 82
28 minutes ago
THE DETAILS

Former Utah Republican Sen. Bob Bennett died of pancreatic cancer on Wednesday after a long battle with pancreatic cancer. Bennett was defeated in a primary in 2010 by Tea Party–backed Mike Lee.

Source:
GOOGLE SEARCHES SPIKE
Libertarians Getting a Second Look?
7 hours ago
WHY WE CARE
VEEPSTAKES
Trump Floats Gingrich, Kasich as Running Mates
7 hours ago
THE LATEST

Newt Gringrich is actively positioning himself as a possible VP nominee for Donald Trump, according to National Review. After a New York Times piece mentioned him as a possible running mate, he said, "It is an honor to be mentioned. We need a new Contract with America to outline a 100-day plan to take back Washington from the lobbyists, bureaucrats, unions, and leftists. After helping in 1980 with Reagan and 1995 as speaker I know we have to move boldly and decisively before the election results wear off and the establishment starts fighting us. That is my focus." Meanwhile, Trump told CNN he'd be "interested in vetting" John Kasich as well.

NO MORE CUTS
House Dems Push on Puerto Rico, Citing Zika
8 hours ago
THE LATEST

"House Democrats are stepping up pressure on Republicans to advance legislation addressing Puerto Rico’s worsening debt crisis by issuing a report arguing that austerity cuts can’t be sustained and have made the island more vulnerable to the mosquito-borne Zika virus." Democrats on the House Natural Resources Committee released a report yesterday that argued "further sharp reductions in government spending can’t be a part of a legislative solution"—especially with a rainy season boosting the mosquito population and stressing an island health system already struggling to deal with the Zika virus.

Source:
USING LOCAL CELLS
Clapper: ISIS Can Stage Attacks in U.S.
9 hours ago
THE DETAILS

"ISIS has the capability to stage a Paris-style attack in the U.S. using local cells to strike in multiple locations and inflict dozens of casualties, according to the Obama administration's top U.S. intelligence official." Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told CNN's Peter Bergen that such a scenario is "something we worry about a lot in the United States, that they could conjure up a raid like they did in Paris or Brussels."

Source:
×