One of the key provisions included in the debt limit and funding agreement signed last night was formation of a House-Senate Budget Conference Committee. The Pacific NW is well represented on the newly formed, 29-member committee with Senators Patty Murray (D-WA), Ron Wyden(D-OR), Jeff Merkley(D-OR) and Mike Crapo (R-ID).
The newly constituted committee is tasked with hammering out differences between the House and Senate FY14 spending levels. The House spending level is $90 billion lower than the Senate proposal. The Committee is required to report on an agreement by December 13. However, unlike the Supercommittee established in 2011, there is no penalty for failure.
There is faint optimism that both sides can come together on a "baby" grand bargain to lift temporarily the sequestration spending caps by making cuts to entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare.
As you could guess, optimism is subdued by a meager track record of agreement and the hyper-partisan climate in Washington. However, both sides seem interested in raising the sequestration caps. Democrats want to increase domestic spending levels and Republicans defense spending. Both sides feel programs are being severely squeezed under the caps and thus there may be room for a small, short-term deal.
In addition, in the wake of the disastrous federal government shutdown, Members of Congress of all political stripes may want to prove they can accomplish something.
It was a good sign this morning that Murray and Congressman Paul Ryan, the new committee leaders, discussed their objectives over breakfast. Both told reporters afterward they wanted to seek "common ground."
Murray and Ryan seem to have a very good working relationship and mutual respect. That is a good sign moving forward.