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All Quiet on the Conference Front

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

No news is, well, news, as Congress nears pressing deadlines to reach a budget deal and pass a farm bill — and there doesn’t appear to be an agreement for either one, at least before Monday.

House GOP aides familiar with the status of both negotiations say conferees will continue to talk in the days ahead, but there are no formal scheduled meetings at the moment.

“We’re waiting on some of the proposals that were discussed Wednesday to be scored and then they’ll reassess accordingly,” said a House GOP aide familiar with the farm bill negotiations. The top four farm bill conferees met on Wednesday and described the meeting as “productive.”

The aide also said there “may” be a public meeting next week “to sort out some outstanding issues.”

While at one point it appeared that the tension lay in the extent of cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamps — the Senate passed a farm bill that slashed $4 billion, while the House advanced a nutrition title that called for a nearly $40 billion reduction — the holdup now appears to relate to the commodities title.

A spokesman for House Budget Chairman Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., who along with Senate Budget Chairwoman Patty Murray, D-Wash., is working to reach a broad budget agreement by Dec. 13, said Ryan had gone home to Janesville, Wis., for the weekend.

“Congressman Ryan, Senator Murray, and their staffs remain in communication with each other,” said Ryan spokesman William Allison in an email to CQ Roll Call. “Ryan is committed to finding common ground. He hopes both parties can work together to cut spending in a smarter way.

“They are making progress,” Allison said.

Some of the unresolved issues relate to offsets and savings for a replacement of the sequester’s spending levels. There has been discussion about requiring federal workers to make higher contributions to their retirement accounts, but the proposal runs afoul of many House Democrats, particularly those near the capital region, where government employees make up broad constituencies.

Two members who fit this description happen to be integral to getting a budget deal and securing the votes on the House floor: Maryland Democrats Christopher Van Hollen, ranking member on the House Budget Committee, and Steny H. Hoyer, the House minority whip.

And time is running out: Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, has pledged to adjourn the House for the holiday season on Dec. 13.

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