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Budget Deal Optimism Emanates From Top House Appropriator

Rogers is not preparing a fallback plan in case budget conferees fail to reach a deal. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Rogers is not preparing a fallback plan in case budget conferees fail to reach a deal. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

House Appropriations Chairman Harold Rogers said Tuesday that he is “somewhat optimistic” that the members of a bipartisan, bicameral budget conference committee will deliver on a broad spending agreement by their Dec. 13 deadline.

A House-Senate budget agreement would provide higher spending caps at which to write the twelve appropriations bills, which have been stymied by political fighting over the austere sequestration levels.

Those caps, Rogers said, would allow appropriators to come up with an omnibus spending bill for the remainder of fiscal 2014, negating the need for any stopgap spending measure to float government operations in the interim.

Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, has been advocating for passage of a CR in lieu of a budget deal before the holiday season to take the fear of another government shutdown off the table.

“I don’t think there’s a need for a CR now,” Rogers said. “I believe we can do an omnibus bill that is done by [Jan.] 15.

“We’ve cleared out some underbrush,” Rogers said in response to skepticism that a dozen appropriations bills could be written and passed by mid-January, just days after the House is scheduled to return from its holiday recess. “We’re ready to go.”

Rogers, who said he was not preparing a contingency CR in the event leadership gave him the signal, also suggested that he was prepared to put in some work between Christmas and New Years Day, even if his colleagues were not. “Me and Santa Claus will be here,” he said with a slight laugh.

Republican members of the House Appropriations Committee, with Rogers as their ringleader, have been steadily raising the volume on the alarm bell to replace the sequester and let the chamber return to regular order. Doing that would allow appropriators to regain some of the influence that they’ve lost over the past few years as CR’s have become the norm.

Not everyone is feeling so certain that the budget conference panel, led by House Budget Chairman Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., and Senate Budget Chairwoman Patty Murray, D-Wash., will culminate in a “Kumbaya” moment next Friday.

Moments before Rogers sought to assuage concerns that a deal was out of reach, House Budget Committee ranking member Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., told reporters that prospects for agreement were “fifty-fifty.”

“Things have gotten slowed down because these negotiations started with Speaker Boehner taking things off the negotiating table,” Van Hollen said. “Specifically, he ruled out the idea of closing the single payer tax breaks as part of efforts to replace the sequester.”

There is also no agreement on what could offset sequester replacement, Van Hollen added.

There’s one thing Van Hollen and Rogers might have in common, though.

“We don’t need a CR,” he said. “This would be a symbol for defeat.”

Van Hollen also said he was prepared to work through the holidays — though unlike Rogers, he would like make everyone else stay in Washington, too.

“The mantra around here for a long time [was], ‘no budget, no pay.’ Our view is, ‘no budget, no vacation,'” said Van Hollen. “We should have an agreement.”

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