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Is a Budget Deal Close? Depends on Whom You Ask

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

House Republican leadership’s decision to call the chamber back into session next Monday for legislative business — a change to the set 2013 congressional calendar — is sparking all kinds of speculation about what it might mean for fiscal 2014 budget prospects.

Namely, is the budget conference committee nearing a deal to replace the sequester and provide higher spending levels for appropriations bills? Or will the committee’s Dec. 13 deadline come and go with an agreement still elusive?

While some speculation has centered on a possible plan to move a continuing resolution to fund the government, one GOP leadership aide told CQ Roll Call that the chamber was likely set to be in session on Dec. 9, so that the Rules Committee could pave the way for a House vote on a deal secured by House Budget Chairman Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., and Senate Budget Chairwoman Patty Murray, D-Wash.

“No CR is currently being written,” said the aide, adding that Appropriations Chairman Harold Rogers, R-Ky., and other senior Republican appropriators did not support a stop-gap spending bill at this time “given the fact that the budget conference appears to be close to a deal.”

Rogers and the twelve chairmen of the House Appropriations subcommittees recently sent a letter to Ryan and Murray all but begging the House-Senate budget conferees to come up with a more workable topline number at which to write spending bills — and to do so sooner rather than later.

Rogers and Senate Appropriations Chairwoman Barbara A. Mikulski, D-Md., wanted the top-line spending level by Monday. With that deadline having passed, the odds only increase that another stopgap spending bill will become necessary, even if Ryan and Murray hammer out a deal.

But if a budget deal is in the offing, House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md., appears to not know about it. He said Tuesday morning that his “suspicion” is that the House was reconvening next Monday to allow the Rules Committee to set the gears in motion to vote on a short-term CR. Were that the case, it would be a clear sign that confidence in the budget conference committee had eroded.

Hoyer, for his part, seemed to have gone from cautiously optimistic to somewhat pessimistic, saying Tuesday that Republicans’ “energy toward getting a budget deal seems very minimal.”

He also said he wouldn’t support a stop-gap spending measure that would, for any length of time, perpetuate sequestration at the austere level of $967 billion — a sign that Republicans would largely be on their own in passing such a measure, and many members of their own party are sour to the concept.

Speaker John A. Boehner, too, sounded a pessimistic note Tuesday, accusing the Senate of not being serious about getting a budget deal.

Multiple House Republican leadership aides confirmed that while the Ohio Republican was inclined to move on a CR before the holiday recess, he would not do so until it was clear an agreement on a larger budget framework could not be reached. Moving before the new year makes sense, in Boehner’s estimation, to avoid a scramble to renew government funding in the days before the current CR expires on Jan. 15.

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