Congress could reach a budget agreement this week or next, but many hurdles remain as legislators seek to strike a deal to eliminate the possibility of another government shutdown in January for the following 10 months.
Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, the Republican chairman of the House Budget Committee, met on Wednesday with Senate Budget Committee Chairman Patty Murray, a Washington Democrat. But they did not reach an agreement.
"Chairman Ryan is committed to finding common ground," Kevin Seifert, a Ryan spokesman, told Newsmax. "He hopes both parties can work together to cut spending in a smarter way."
"[Murray] is optimistic, and talks continue," Eli Zupnick, a Murray spokesman, told The Wall Street Journal.
The negotiators have until Dec. 13, the adjournment date set by House Speaker John Boehner, to develop the spending plan. The budget would set levels through 2015, replace part of the automatic spending cuts known as the sequester, reform entitlements — and do all of it without raising taxes.
The current budget expires on Jan. 15, 2014, when the possibility of another government shutdown looms.
Ryan and Murray lead a conference committee of 29 lawmakers.
According to the Journal, House Republicans are seeking to limit discretionary spending at $967 billion, while Democrats want that figure at $1.058 trillion.
But several congressional aides said lawmakers were targeting a $1 trillion budget range, though even that figure remains negotiable.
"It's still up in the air," Democratic Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, a member of the conference committee, told the Journal.
Perhaps one of the major sticking points between the parties concerns the sequester cuts. The mandatory reductions were required this year under the Budget Control Act.
To fully replace those cuts for two years, the Journal reports, at least $180 billion to $200 billion in savings would need to be found elsewhere in the budget. Legislators are currently in the $40 billion to $90 billion range.
Democrats will need to offer some concessions, several Republicans told the Journal, or the sequester cuts would remain in place.
"I don't like it, but it's the only blunt instrument we have currently," GOP Rep. James Lankford of Oklahoma said.
But even if Ryan and Murray do reach an agreement, further minefields remain — nothing short of trying to persuade the remaining 27 members of the conference committee to support the deal.
And then there's the actual vote by both the House and Senate, the Journal reports, with the chambers then deciding how to set the budget's spending priorities.
"The speaker knows that Chairman Ryan is committed to finding common ground and hopes Senate Democrats will work with us to find a smarter way to cut Washington spending," Michael Steel, a Boehner spokesman, told USA Today.
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