Budget Conferees No Closer to Avoiding 2nd Shutdown
The bipartisan group of lawmakers known as the " budget conference committee" said they have made little progress on a long term budget deal to help avoid another government shutdown.
During the group's second meeting today, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray, D-Wash., acknowledged that both sides have differences of opinion on how to deal with the budget issue but said each meeting and discussion moves the conversation forward.
"Today's meeting will keep the ball rolling," Ryan said. "The reason we are here is to get an agreement. We've spent a lot of time talking about our differences. We've got that part down cold. That's the easy part. The hard part is figuring out where we agree.
"It is extremely important and we agree that we need to step out of our partisan corners and make some compromises lay down a foundation for some long term bipartisan agreements," Murray said.
Most negotiating is occurring behind closed doors, but today's meeting provided the group of 29 lawmakers with a briefing by Congressional Budget Office Director Doug Elmendorf, who addressed the long-term and short-term economic and budget outlook.
Elmendorf tackled the immediate challenges facing the country such as the latest recession that has led to slow job growth and higher unemployment rates among certain demographics. Elmendorf also mentioned that prolonged weakness in the economy coupled with an aging population, plus the expansion of federal subsidies for health insurance and rising health care costs would also place tremendous pressure on the budget in the long term.
The Congressional Budget Office director urged the committee to keep pushing forward to reach a deal and avoid the kind of standoff the triggered a partial two-week government shutdown last month. "Big steps are better than small steps but small steps are better than no steps at all," Elmendorf said.
As part of the agreement last month to reopen the government and temporarily suspend the debt ceiling, the committee was tasked with reaching an agreement for a long-term budget deal by Dec. 13. But with the deadline just a month away, lawmakers acknowledged the pressure to reach a deal soon.
Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., made a plea to her fellow peers that they come together and move forward quickly because time is running out.
"As we are keenly aware January 15 is the deadline for passing legislation to keep the government running," Lowey, the top Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, said. "This conference committee must be successful in reaching agreements on a funding level for fiscal year 2014 with enough time for bills to pass before January 15."