GOP's Turn to Make Dems Wait as Budget Conference Committee Stalled

WASHINGTON – Congressional Republicans are blocking negotiations over a 2014 federal budget agreement because they fear it might result in further tax increases and a hike in the federal debt ceiling.

House Republicans have stalled making appointments to a budget conference committee which would be charged with developing a spending plan with conferees from the Senate. Republicans in the upper chamber, meanwhile, are blocking efforts by Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid, of Nevada, to make conference committee appointments. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, of Kentucky, has objected to making the selections four times and counting.

The delaying tactics are ironic since congressional Republicans have criticized Senate Democrats for failing to adopt a budget proposal at any time over the past four years. Now that Democrats have finally put one on the table, GOPs are looking to avoid the negotiations that theoretically could result in a final package.

The differences between the House budget plan, authored by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), chairman of the House Budget Committee and last year’s GOP nominee for vice president, and the Senate package offered by Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), chairwoman of the Senate Budget Committee, are as wide and deep as the Grand Canyon. It’s unlikely face-to-face talks will result in a 2014 spending plan.

But Reid maintains any chance of an agreement is impossible without a conference committee.

“We have a budget resolution we passed in the Senate,” Reid said. “We want to meet with the House and work out our differences. That is what we have done here for two centuries. We should do it on this bill.”

Republicans, Reid said, have demanded that the budget be developed through “regular order” – passed by committee, run through the amendment process, and finally passed on the Senate floor. Now that the legislation has been adopted in that manner, the GOP is standing in its way.

“For two years my Republican colleagues have said they wish for a return to regular order,” Reid said. “They asked for amendments and they got amendments. They asked for consideration of bills out of committees and they have gotten that. They asked and then asked again for the Senate to pass a budget resolution, even though we already had a budget law signed by President Obama. Well, they got what they wished -- the dog finally caught the car. But it turns out Republicans were more interested in demagogy by calling for regular order than actually operating under regular order.”

Senate Republicans insist they won’t permit the majority to proceed to a conference unless it agrees to prohibit the panel from negotiating for any increase in taxes. The spending package adopted by the upper chamber in April raises taxes, primarily by removing tax breaks directed at wealthy Americans, by about $1 trillion.

The House proposal does not contain any tax hike.

McConnell is demanding that Senate Democrats modify their request to appoint a conference committee “so that it not be in order for the Senate to consider a conference report that includes tax increases or reconciliation instructions to increase taxes or raise the debt ceiling.”

House and Senate Republicans are holding a vote on increasing the nation’s debt limit as a possible ace in the hole. They have used the Treasury’s request to raise the ceiling as a negotiating ploy before and GOP lawmakers are looking to do so again in an effort to slash the nation’s budget deficit.

But several factors -- an increase in tax revenues, a suddenly growing economy, the sequester implementing across-the-board budget cuts and a decline in the growth of healthcare costs -- mean the opportunity to re-address the debt limit probably won’t arrive until October, if then -- instead of August. By that time the fiscal year will have started.