As legislators returned from a two-week spring recess, Rebecca Shabad, staff writer for The Hill, appeared on C-SPAN to update the status of negotiations between the two houses of the Republican Congress as they worked to produce a reconciled budget and fulfill a campaign promise to distinguish themselves from prior congresses in which the Democrat-controlled Senate would not consider the budget product of the Republican House.
It should be stressed that even though the Members were home, there were plenty of staff of the committees and Leadership in a position left in Washington to work out agreements that their bosses could ratify when they returned. Sometimes Congress can be more productive if the Members go away for a while. Earlier reports indicated that the key issue dividing the houses would be the defense budget, where Senate Republicans were seen as more eager than their House counterparts were to deliver significant cuts.
Shabad explained that budget resolutions are merely guidelines for the appropriations committees to follow and they are non-binding, but this is the first time that Republicans have had a chance to produce a budget reconciled between the House and Senate since they last controlled both bodies in 2005. Her article in The Hill calls a deal between the Senate and House "a cinch." The respective bills call for a balanced budget in nine years under the House version and 10 years in the Senate resolution; the outlook is for the Senate version to prevail.
As for other issues in a House-Senate conference, the final deal is supposed to "line up" the key numbers. The House budget would cut Medicare and Medicaid "much more" than the Senate would, so Shabad predicted a middle ground will be found. The House has given 13 resolution instructions to its conferees, whereas the Senate has only two, and the main objective is "unraveling Obamacare." As others have observed, "This is the first real test to show [the Republicans] can govern."
Interestingly, while Congress was out last week the respective chairmen of the budget committees, Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wy., and Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., met. Shabad said these meetings have been held about twice a month since the beginning of the year, and the purpose of the most recent discussion was "to get a head start on an agreement." It's not clear from the remarks of the chairmen afterward how much progress was made.
Shabad also reported that budget committees' ranking Democratics Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., told the press, "From a moral perspective, from an economic perspective, this budget is a disaster." As usual the Democrats have complained that the budget funds defense at the expense of cuts in domestic programs, and Shabad pointed out that Sanders might run for president while Van Hollen has already begun to run for the Senate. (That would be for the open seat of Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md.)
Also on Tuesday, Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and other Republican senators spoke with staked-out reporters following their weekly lunch about their agenda upon return from the recess. McConnell said the Senate plans to take up the Medicare "doc fix" bill (discussed in recent articles as a measure necessary for Republicans to manage the Obamacare issue). Both parties would be allowed to offer amendments and the bill would be "wrapped up" before cuts would take effect at midnight. He noted the budget would be taken up by the end of the week.
(Archived video can be found here
. McConnell's remarks can be found here
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