Big Deal, Small Deal, No Deal: Why Hopes Are Low at Start of Talks Over Next Congressional Budget Cliff

Just as the last invented Washington fiscal crisis fades from memory, the next one looms ahead, with little signs of optimism from either side of the aisle

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Michael Reynolds / EPA

U.S. Senate minority leader, Republican Mitch McConnell, arrives at the U.S. Capitol on Oct. 16, 2013

Correction appended at 4:48 p.m.

Just as the last invented Washington fiscal crisis fades from memory, the next one looms ahead, with little signs of optimism from either side of the aisle.

Government funding is set to run out again on Jan. 15, and in seven weeks a bipartisan group in Congress has been told to present a new path forward. Their first — and so far only — scheduled meeting is this Wednesday. The group has no special legislative powers, little time to act, excludes key players and will work from documents — the Senate and House budgets — that are in one important way as partisan as Obamacare: neither bill when passed in March attracted a single vote from a member of the minority party.

Congressional leaders are already ruling out a big breakthrough in what amounts to the first budget conference in four years, and the eighth major budget commission in three years. It will not lead to a “grand bargain,” according to Senate majority leader Harry Reid and House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan. Indeed, the two Congressmen required for any deal that would reform the tax code — House Ways and Means Committee chairman Dave Camp and Senate Finance Committee chairman Max Baucus — have not been appointed to join the group.

So what will the conference do? The 29 members are required to send a report of recommendations to the full chambers by Dec. 13. The conference will likely focus on crafting a small deal to avert the next fiscal crisis early next year. Democrats will push for increased revenue from closing tax loopholes. Democratic congressional staffers point to a few notorious tax exemptions for corporate jets and the oil and gas industry, and the Gingrich-Edwards payroll-tax loophole. But many Republicans will reject any tax-revenue increases. “Revenues are a nonstarter in the House,” says a House Republican leadership aide. “They got their revenues on Jan. 1 and should not expect any more.”

(MORE: Obama: Government Shutdown Raises 2014 Stakes)

Democrats are quick to respond. “There is no way a deal is possible if Republicans say ‘It’s my way or the highway,’ and that the only way you can do a deal is with only cuts,” says a senior Senate Democratic aide. When asked if he would consider a deal without revenue increases, Representative Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, a member of the conference and the ranking member on the House Budget Committee, told TIME, “No, we support a balanced approach to reducing the deficit and replacing the sequester.”

But there is some opening on the Republican side for a narrow increase in revenues. Representatives Tom Price of Georgia and Tom Cole of Oklahoma, two of the four House Republicans on the conference, are divided on the issue. “Congressman Price believes the best way to generate revenue is to grow our economy and get more Americans working again,” says spokeswoman Ellen Carmichael. “He does not believe that we should take more money from hardworking Americans to bail out Washington.”

“Both sides would like to deal with the sequester,” Cole told Bloomberg last week. “And we’re willing to put more revenue on the table to do that, and we would like to do it with entitlement savings.”

As Cole’s comment suggests, mutual disgust of sequestration cuts could force a coalition of Republican defense hawks and Democrats together. Of the 34 Republicans on the armed-services panel, 30 signed a letter sent last week to the leaders of the conference, Ryan and Senate Budget chairwoman Patty Murray, decrying sequestration, half of which is targeted on defense spending. Sequestration cuts $109.3 billion in fiscal year 2014, up from roughly $80 billion in 2013.

But many Republicans like sequestration. “For the first time in 50 years, discretionary spending in Washington has declined for two years in a row,” Senator Roger Wicker of Mississippi wrote after he was named a budget conferee. “Republicans have successfully fought to ensure the budget savings, established in 2011, will continue. We must not stop there.”

Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell, who brokered the latest fiscal deal with Reid, has focused his 2014 campaign messaging on his success in establishing the sequester-funding triggers in 2011. Although he isn’t a budget conferee, recent history suggests that he needs to sign off on any fiscal deal for it to pass with Republican support. “This legislation is the largest spending-reduction bill of the last quarter-century and the largest deficit-reduction bill since 1981 that didn’t include a tax hike,” said McConnell on the Senate floor on Oct. 16. “Preserving this law is critically important.”

Correction

A previous version of this article stated that there were 28 budget conferees. There are 29.

MORE: On to the Next Crisis: Why Congress Learned Nothing From the Shutdown

130 comments
Wolfs
Wolfs

Okay, Congress, listen up.  We the people of the United States are sick of you all.  You are self serving, greedy, immoral people who don't do as your constiuents want, pass laws that you exempt yourselves from (against the Constitution), cannot negotiate with one another, vote in your own raises, don't abide by the law (how many of you haven't paid your income taxes?), just to mention a few heineous acts, because all you really care about is getting money to be re-elected.  And the press will back up the crookedest of you and blame the Republicans for everything.  TheTea Party or any other faction who wants to stand up and do the honorable and right thing are crucified by the press.  You all make us sick and we want you to finally use those puny brain cells and come up with some solutions to the budget, or YOU can go without pay but report to work everyday until you come up with some rational way to put a lid on spending without stealing more of our Social Security funds.  Maybe if you do that you will have earned a couple days of pay.  How about cutting back on all the money you give to illegal aliens you've legalized to get more votes?  Why should they get one dime of our hard earned money?  Because YOU want them here?  What do your constiuents tell you they want? Do you ever listen to them?  And Connecticut Senators and Representatives....  I understand you no longer have your e-mail addresses on your websites.  Why?  Getting too many e-mails from your constiuents telling you they want something other than what you're delivering?  Feeling guilty?  Thinking gun laws would be good because God only knows there must be people out there who hate you enough to try and shoot you?  Why don't you do the right thing for a change.  Abide by the Constitution and do the job you were hired to do....what your constituents want you to do.

DavidFarrar
DavidFarrar

It doesn't matter how low or high the bar is set; the Republicans have only one choice in these budget negotiations. It was the same choice they had with Obamacare: either cede all power to the Communist or shut down the government.


ex animo

davidfarrar

JamesHicks
JamesHicks

If we the people force these people to stay in DC until their work is complete instead of taking off 250 days a year vacations then saying they don't have time for a fix could help. I like others say that we have to get big money out of elections for the little guys to even have a say in anything. When a man spends more on an election than he can make in 40 years on the job their is something wrong. If one gives 10 million and I can only give 20 dollars the 10 million man will always get what he wants right or wrong, good or bad  for the country.

nwgunslinger
nwgunslinger

"The duty of the opposition party is to oppose"   -  JFK Quoting Robert Taft in speech before the senate in 1956

rharmon6
rharmon6

Until we are willing to face the reality that government is controlled by business and business is not in the loosing money game we'll never have a honest conversation about where our tax money should be spent. Look at the companies that have the most profit and see where they get their money from. Now look at the companies that benefit from our government. Strange that our two biggest expenses are taking caring of people and building a war machine to destroy people ? 

henrybhall
henrybhall

As an AM-Vet it is beyond my comprehension how and why do the poor and middle class continue to cast their ballots for these selfish Republican representatives that keep voting for cutting SS, Medicare and Medicaid and now the ACA.  Are they so propagandized and brainwashed as to continue to elect these self serving idiots who are voting against their personal benefits??

RonaldPeacock
RonaldPeacock

As Jackie Gleason use to say "And away we go". They keep thinking they can out think the President which in all honesty it wasn't thinking it was just giving a good old shafting up the @$$ so to say is what they did in the past. Now they think that door is still open and has remained open I guess?  Been closed for a while now but do they not keep walking into the same wall? Seems so. Think?  

kharly
kharly

There will "never" be a "big deal" as long as the republicon party won't sign onto a increase in tax revenue. Why won't republicons agree to tax revenue? Republicons, before taking oath first sign a pledge to anti tax man Grover Norquist. If they break that pledge they face a challenger or do not receive campaign cash. There will be no deal.

Being a republicon these days must suck. They either face a wing nut or ...??? Can't help but laugh a Karl Roves one party rule thing. Greed is ugly !

HaroldGoodman
HaroldGoodman

You would think that the GOP would have learned by now. Obama is just gonna whip your a$$ again. The GOP should be used to it.

robertleomoore
robertleomoore

We desperately need to amend the Constitution to make Congress subject to snap elections if they reach an impasse.  If a Congress cannot reach a decision, the president at the time should then call elections within 45 days to elect a new Congress.

Another amendment is needed to require the states to draw congressional districts as geographically similar as possible based on population, only.  Take away the ability to deliberately draw districts that are safe for any party.

jelly201
jelly201

the founding fathers wanted to be ruled by the majority.  Since the majority of coingressmen(senstors And Representatives) are against the president and the less than 100 Senators I believe the country is being ruled by the media spin doctors. 

AlphaJuliette
AlphaJuliette

The greatest threat to our country isn't the debt, the deficit spending, or Islamic terrorism. The greatest threat to this nation is the lack of unity and leadership in D.C.  This not only applies to here at home but overseas as Richard Haas points out.

I hear a lot about taking our country back and a return to Constitutional government as envisioned by our founding fathers from the Tea Party.  They should consider what one of our founding fathers warned us about. 

From John Adams - "Democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts and murders itself. There was never a democracy that did not commit suicide."

Concurred by Abraham Lincoln - "At what point then is the approach of danger to be expected? I answer, if it ever reach us, it must spring up amongst us. It cannot come from abroad. If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time, or die by suicide."

And, what would the vehicle of our ultimate demise be?  Once again, John Adams -

"There is nothing which I dread so much as a division of the republic into two great parties, each arranged under its leader, and concerting measures in opposition to each other. This, in my humble apprehension, is to be dreaded as the greatest political evil under our Constitution.

We are out of time.  We need to heal the wounds of our divisive government and begin to work together for the common good. 

drudown
drudown

@nwgunslinger 

Tell me, are you suggesting that the alleged "duty" of the GOP to "oppose" their partisan rivals supersedes their EXPRESS Constitutional duty to raise revenue per Article I, Section 8? Get real. 

"Wiretapping is a dirty business." - Chief Justice Taft, Olmstead v. United States (1929) 277 U.S. 438

Ohiolib
Ohiolib

@henrybhall Short answer: yes, though their paranoia about gun-grabbers, mandatory abortions, and being forced to marry 3 men also play a role. 

AlphaJuliette
AlphaJuliette

@robertleomoore Our Constitution does not need such an amendment or any amendment for that matter.  What is needed are elected representatives to work together to solve this nations problems.

Both sides bring to the table good ideas and valid concerns.  IF they actually listened to each other and considered how to move forward then we would have a functional government.

MrObvious
MrObvious

@robertleomoore 

None gerrymandered districts? Sounds like a plan. Add to that amendment that says only humans are considered people and money property, not free speech.

cent-fan
cent-fan

@robertleomoore   I'll agree with balanced districting but snap elections sounds like Egypt and the Arab Spring.  Really, the districting covers the bases.  If a Republican had to worry about any large population center in their district, especially (gasp) somewhere that wasn't all white, old, well-off, and living on their parents paid-for farm, then they might have to think towards the middle and move things along.

robertleomoore
robertleomoore

@jelly201 Your grasp of American history is not very good nor your knowledge of the current political situation.  There was a lot of debate about how far to allow majority rule in the construction of the original form of our current Constitution.  In fact, the Constitution is filled with compromises designed to get different states to buy into it.  The electoral college was added as a compromise to get the small states such as Delaware, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and Massachusetts to ratify the Constitution.  The Congress was structured with an elected House of Representatives based on population and a Senate that was not subject to elections for the same reason.  The small states did not want to be completely at the mercy of the larger states with larger populations and more territory in which to grow.  The Senate was not an elected body until the early twentieth century.

In the current political situation, you are utterly wrong in your statement that the majority of representatives and senators are against he president.  You are also incorrect in your statement that the Founding Fathers wanted to be ruled by the majority.

A rather slim majority of the House of Representatives is nominally opposed to the president.  That majority would have been switched without the aggressive gerrymandering that took place in states controlled by the Republicans.  The fact is that taken as a whole, Democrats garnered over one million votes more than the total cast for Republicans.  In the districts where Democrats won, they tended to win by huge majorities, but in districts where Republicans won, they tended to win by smaller majorities.  I would venture that the majority of Americans as a whole do not want the Republicans to control the House.

In the Senate, not only did the Republicans not hold a majority going into the last election, they lost a couple of seats gained in the prior election.  Since it is not possible to gerrymander for Senate seats, the majority of voters are more clearly reflected by the fact that Republicans lost.

Your statement about the Founding Fathers wanting majority rule is not correct, either.  They really wanted consensus rule, and sought to prevent a tyranny of the majority by including protections for individual and minority rights.  The Bill-of-Rights was a compromise to prevent the majority from doing things such as imposing an official religion.  Patrick Henry advocated for establishing (really continuing) the Episcopal Church as the official church for Virginia.  He participated in the suppression of the Baptists who were required to pay a tax to support the Episcopal Church even after independence under the Articles of Confederation, which was the nation's first constitution.  That is why the First Amendment prohibits such things.  It is why Thomas Jefferson wrote about the wall between church and state.  They knew firsthand about tyranny of the majority.

What we have at the moment is a tyranny of a minority of a minority.

nwgunslinger
nwgunslinger

@jelly201 Such a statement shows a complete ignorance of history, government and politics.  our founders greatly feared a democracy because they knew it would lead to oppression of minorities by majorities.  Instead they formed a constitutional republic wherein the government was given a very narrow set of powers.  they provided for democratically elected representatives only.

Of course since FDR the constitutionally limited government has been all but forgotten.

CeceliaHolland
CeceliaHolland

@jelly201 actually they were worried about giving the majority too much power, and designed he existing system to spread around the responsibility. checks and balances. you may have heard of it. 

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

@jelly201 Except of course the majority of Americans voted for a Democratic House last election cycle. And if it wasn't for the wonders of gerrymandering the GOP would hold no power at all.

PaulDirks
PaulDirks

@jelly201 Notice how the last Presidential election utterly fails to enter your calculations.

Keep trying though.....


barneydidit
barneydidit

@jelly201 Actually they didn't want to be ruled by a majority, that's why we have an Electoral College, and two houses of Congress. 

robertleomoore
robertleomoore

@AlphaJuliette The situation we have, now, reminds me of the divisions that grew leading to the Civil War.  What is most striking to me is that in both cases, the greatest part of that utter hatred of the national government derives from the Southern states.  

I say that as a Southerner who had to take more Georgia history growing up than anyone should ever have to digest.  There is a strong, mostly underground, belief among a lot of white Southerners that they did not cause the Civil War.  They myth is that it was about state's rights and ignores the fact that South Carolina launched the first military action against a U.S. facility at Fort Sumter.  In fact, South Carolina was the state that launched the secession movement although in the end, it was not the most severely devastated state.  It is why one still sees so many open displays of the Confederate battle flag travelling around the states of the old Confederate States of America.  There is the Southern version of the Civil War then there is reality.  I did not learn the reality until I got my degree in history at a southern college.  The reality is remarkably different and far less noble than what was taught to my generation in public school, which is all that most people in my generation (I'm a boomer) learned.

What I realized is that the Southern elite, who were the industrial farmers and owned most of the slaves, were hell-bent on protecting their position at the top.  They manipulated elections, which they still do, to keep themselves in power and were the ones who really pushed secession.  Most of the people in the South were small farmers whose workforce consisted of their family.

At the time of the Civil War broke out, Americans tended to identify with their state first and the country second.

reallife
reallife

@AlphaJuliette Isn't it great how as soon as the libs sense trouble ahead they start to talk about "healing wounds" - LOL - 

i'll tell you what: we'll start to "heal the wounds" in 2016 right after the Republicans get the senate and the presidency. How does that sound?


sidkav
sidkav

@AlphaJuliette Specifically, our greatest threat is the republican party.  They are, at least, mostly responsible for nearly all our problems.  Decline in education, crumbling infrastructure, medical decline, our miserable congress, loss of the middle class, homelessness, and on and on.  All those can be attributed mostly to the republicans and their lack of willingness to do anything about it all.

jelly201
jelly201

@AlphaJuliette I believe you are right but I would add that a nation controlled by the media is doomed.  I look to you to examine this idea in depth in relation to the currant status of our nation.  Has any other nation had the press so controlled that opposing  points of view or opposing stands for their beliefs are so ridiculed

AlphaJuliette
AlphaJuliette

@drudown

John Adams said:

There is nothing which I dread so much as a division of the republic into two great parties, each arranged under its leader, and concerting measures in opposition to each other. This, in my humble apprehension, is to be dreaded as the greatest political evil under our Constitution.

reallife
reallife

No, dumbass, their duty is to do what people who elected them, want them to do.

But go ahead, change the subject

robertleomoore
robertleomoore

@AlphaJuliette That is sort of the point.  When they do not do their job, then just as in countries such as Canada, Australia, and the U.K., we would have an election to replace the current Congress with one that had some different people.  It seems to work pretty well in those countries.

robertleomoore
robertleomoore

@mary.waterton I don't see the point to that since it is the Congress that is at an impasse.  If we were to go that far, then we should probably go fully to a parliamentary form that combines the executive with the legislative as Canada and Australia use and make the president a mostly ceremonial post.  I think that is not necessary, but I also would not have a problem with it.

johnmartindj
johnmartindj

@mary.waterton @robertleomoore You really should learn about your own Constitution. The part where Congress is able to impeach a President. The Vice President would then take over until the next election. the President is up for election every 4 years. Anything else you need to know about 7th grade Civics class just ask, I'll have my 13 year old respond

robertleomoore
robertleomoore

@cent-fan Snap elections is not something either Egypt or other countries involved in the Arab Spring use.  It is a mechanism used in democracies such as Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, and Israel.  When the sitting legislature grinds to an impasse, the head of state calls for elections and the voters are basically asked to elect representatives who will break the impasse.  It almost always works because voters will eject those they view as creating the impasse and replace them with those who more closely agree with the views of voters.  It does tend to produce more turnover in members.

drudown
drudown

@cent-fan @robertleomoore 

Uh, I think the GOP approach of "disregarding the Constitution's express commands is now 'okay' if done in the name of partisan politics" sounds about as Despotic as anything in our Nation's history.

reallife
reallife

Yeah sure, and obamacare is working nicely

Lol

shepherdwong
shepherdwong

@barneydidit @jelly201 Particularly the US Senate, which gives equal governing weight to Wyoming, with a population of just over half a million, and California with 38 million people. It's just amazing how proudly some people expose their profound ignorance.

HaroldGoodman
HaroldGoodman

Sounds like a laughable joke to me. How do the polls sound to you?

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

@reallife Sounds like you need to put the crack pipe down. It will be a long time before the American Taliban will get near the White House again.

jason024
jason024

@reallife That sounds like a pipe dream...but hey this is Merica! You can dream whatever you want. Go ahead and nominate a Palin or Cruz. Then you will see how utterly ridiculous your platform is...or in your case blame the liberal media and how Palin and Cruz were not conservative enough.

golf7buddy
golf7buddy

@sidkav @AlphaJuliette - If I have ever heard or seen a partisan statement, yours will be the first one. Get your myopic vision corrected. I was going to write something constructive but it will be a waste of time and my intellect on you. Suffice it to say that you should stay in the gutter, face down, where you belong.

drudown
drudown

@jelly201 @AlphaJuliette 

You erroneously imply that the Media- that is, opposed to Congress- is "refusing" to do its prescribed revenue-raising duties under Article I, Section 8 to the People's detriment, i.e., the lobbyist-driven "no new taxes, ever" regime materially impairs the Nation's fiscal, strategic and military interests.

shepherdwong
shepherdwong

@jelly201 "Has any other nation had the press so controlled that opposing  points of view or opposing stands for their beliefs are so ridiculed."

I wish that were true. The Republican point of view is ridiculous and/or a flat-out lie, yet it is usually treated with unfounded credulity and respect by the Beltway press.

drudown
drudown

@AlphaJuliette @drudown 

Uh, a greater "evil" than the Congress REFUSING to perform its prescribed duties under Article I, Section 8 to provide for the Common Defense? Than the NSA trampling the express language of the 4th Amendment by circumventing the warrant requirement? Than by diverting US Taxpayer dollars to futilely enforce a Police Power over Arab sovereigns abroad while the GOP purports to "undo" the New Deal at home?

Sorry, the "evil" is Foreign money pouring into super-PACs that seek to effectuate what the Bush Administration claimed the "Evil Doers" wanted to accomplish via terrorist attacks: erode our "Freedoms" and subvert United States supremacy. 

There is a point where the People need to demand the Independent Judiciary reestablish "what the law means" in order to force the members of Congress to comply with Article I, Section 8's express language, i.e., given the Congress' conduct subverts the plain meaning. 

drudown
drudown

@reallife 

That is ridiculous. Show me the law that "supports" such an absurd proposition, i.e., elected leaders don't have a LEGAL DUTY to perform their necessary job functions if "their base" wants to obstruct their alleged "political opponents"?

By your tortured logic, what, a Postal Officer can "refuse" to go to work or deliver mail because he/she doesn't agree with the ACA? Can a Federal Magistrate "refuse" to sentence criminals because "he/she" simply "has ideological differences" with other staff members?

You nuts just want to "ruin" our system of government and seem to think you are going to get away with it. 

Do you really think the People should "invest their faith" in the GOP "Decider" after leading us into a $4 trillion war with Iraq over false pretenses and trying to wield Unconstitutional Legislative Veto power to "defund" the ACA? To "shut down" the Government? 

The GOP displays actual malice towards the rule of law. 

shepherdwong
shepherdwong

@reallife "No, dumbass, their duty is to do what people who elected them, want them to do."

As long as those people aren't traitors. In that case, their duty is clear:


"I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter: So help me God."

reallife
reallife

That'll be a new one. It's usually Bush that gets the blame.