Congress has given itself a several-month reprieve to write a budget, and the four lawmakers charged with doing that said all the right things Thursday morning as they emerged from their first informal meeting.
“Our job over the next eight weeks is to find out what we can agree on,” said Sen. Patty Murray, the Washington Democrat who is chairman of the Senate Budget Committee.
Part of this week’s deal to reopen government and give President Obama four or five more months of borrowing room is that the House and Senate agreed to go to a formal conference to write a budget by mid-December. The lack of a budget was a key reason for the government shutdown in the first place.
Ms. Murray will be working with Sen. Jeff Sessions, the ranking Republican on her committee, as well as House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan and Rep. Chris Van Hollen, the ranking Democrat on Mr. Ryan’s committee.
The four of them had a breakfast Thursday, and emerged deflecting talk of the hurdles, focusing instead on their optimism.
“We’re just beginning these conversations,” Mr. Ryan said.
Already, comparisons have been made to the 2011 deficit “supercommittee” that was supposed to recommend replacement cuts or tax increases to prevent the budget sequester cuts from taking effect.
That supercommittee deadlocked on partisan lines and the sequesters took effect. Now, all sides say they want to replace the across-the-board discretionary cuts of the sequesters, but the GOP says it should be done with cuts to entitlement programs while Democrats insist tax increases should be considered.
Those are the same dividing lines that have stymied budgeters for the last three years.
Mr. Ryan pointed out the last time the House and Senate worked out a unified budget was 2009 — when Democrats held giant majorities in both chambers. In the ensuing four years, Congress has operated without a budget, which has left it stumbling through the spending process.
If all runs according to plan, the House and Senate are supposed to agree early in the year on a budget that the spending and tax committees then use to write the bills that actually set tax rates and fund the basic government programs that make up discretionary spending.
This year, though, the Senate’s budget came in about $90 billion higher than the House’s budget, and the two sides never reconciled them — leaving each chamber writing its spending bills at completely different levels.