After several years of complaining that Congress didn’t have a budget, Republicans are now the ones holding up the 2014 budget process.
Both the GOP-led House and Democrat-controlled Senate have passed plans, but House Speaker John A. Boehner seems in no hurry to create the official conference committee that would hammer out differences.
Democrats, tired of taking fire for their budget record, are on the offensive, with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid trying to jump-start final budget negotiations Tuesday. He took to the Senate floor and made a motion to formally set up the Senate budget negotiating team, but the GOP blocked it.
“Republicans are afraid to even be seen considering a compromise with Democrats,” Mr. Reid, Nevada Democrat, said.
But top Republicans in both chambers said they wanted to hold informal talks first to see what kind of final budget deal is possible.
“Typically when you go to conference, you have a sense that there’s an agreement possible,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, said. “Certainly, there ought to be discussions between Senate and House budget leaders, but to go to conference right now when we have no sense of whether there’s any chance of getting an outcome strikes us as not making much sense.”
The House GOP budget envisions strict spending limits on domestic spending, including major changes to Medicare, and reaches balance in a decade. The Senate Democratic budget would raise taxes and cut defense, but still leaves a deficit in every year.
Michael Steel, a spokesman for Mr. Boehner, Ohio Republican, said that Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray, Washington Democrat, and House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, Wisconsin Republican, have begun informal negotiations.
Similar deliberations took place in 2009, when Democrats controlled both the House and the Senate and then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi appointed conferees more than two months after the House passed its budget.
“It is difficult to see what Sen. Reid’s stunt today will do to help if Senate Democrats don’t even agree we need to balance the budget in the first place,” Mr. Steel said in an email.
Democrats said part of the GOP’s reluctance is that it doesn’t want to have to face tough votes on specific budget items. If the two chambers agree to hold a formal conference, the minority party is allowed to offer nonbinding procedural motions that could force the GOP to take tough votes.
House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, said the GOP should toughen up.
“That’s not a good place for them to be, but that is democracy and that is regular order,” Mr. Hoyer said.
Significant concessions from both sides will be needed if talks are to advance. The Senate budget’s $3 trillion in taxes presents a nonstarter for most Republicans. In the House, Mr. Ryan’s plan repeals President Obama’s health care overhaul, among other cuts to entitlement programs — sacred cows for many Democrats.
GOP strategist Ford O’Connell said the path to a so-called grand bargain is narrow, but possible, and Mr. Obama got a discussion started with a plan to reduce entitlement spending by $800 billion over 10 years.
“But he is fooling himself if he thinks that will get Republicans to raise more revenues,” Mr. O’Connell said. “If the president can get Democrats to get more serious about entitlement reform — which doesn’t seem likely right now — then I think you will see Republicans put revenue on the table and a deal will get done. But until then, we will continue to careen from fiscal crisis to fiscal crisis.”
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