Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., indicated Wednesday that a budget conference between the House and Senate is not out of the question, but that the House wants to set some ground rules before agreeing to make any formal moves.
In a wide-ranging discussion at the Christian Science Monitor's recurring breakfast with policymakers, the five-term lawmaker, who sits on the powerful House Budget and Ways and Means committees, also provided his thoughts about the trajectory of an immigration overhaul and what the GOP might put on the table as part of a deal on raising the debt limit.
Here are the highlights from the hourlong discussion at a conference room in the St. Regis Hotel.
1. The Budget. Political watchers and frequent readers of our sister blog, #WGDB, are familiar by now with Democratic senators' frequent unanimous consent requests to go to conference on the budgets both chambers passed earlier this year, but which Senate Republicans have blocked every time. The task of merging two very different budget frameworks is going to be a major challenge, and Price said on Wednesday that the delay can be traced to House Budget Chairman Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., and others, who are hoping to lay down some conference "ground rules" before opening up the process for "demagoguery."
"It's important for people to know that [Senate Budget Chairwoman and Washington Democrat Patty] Murray and Chairman Ryan are, indeed, meeting and talking with great regularity and trying to come to an agreement on the parameters of a budget conference," Price said. "It's important to develop that framework before we sit down ... so it's not a free-for-all ... [with] partisan back and forth that won't reach any solutions.
"Chairman Ryan is very wise in laying out the goal of defining those parameters," he said.
2. The Debt Limit. Even though President Barack Obama has said he won't negotiate with Republicans on raising the debt limit, Price said there were certain things he'd like to see that, while controversial, could provide some opportunity for bipartisan discussion and probably represents a more realistic sampling of what the majority of his colleagues would like to see come out of the looming negotiations.
"I think it’s important for us to put an array of options out there," he said, and they included entitlement changes, embracing the dollar-for-dollar "Boehner rule," and what Price called "pro-growth tax reform."
He added that he suspects any debt limit deal would be a part of the budget conference report, if and when that happens.
3. Overhauling the tax code. After years of lawmakers bemoaning the state of the current code, Price says he thinks the time is finally right to draft and pass a substantive bill — by the end of the year, in fact.
The scandal with the IRS has provided an impetus for action, he said.
"I'm not one of those who believes this puts the kibosh on tax reform," Price explained. "I think it gives us a greater opportunity and we embrace this greater opportunity. When all folks look at this issue, recognize it's this huge monolith and frightening to many Americans and anything we can do to simplify the tax code and make the [IRS] less threatening ... would be a good thing."
4. Immigration overhaul. Price — like some of his House GOP colleagues, including Judiciary Chairman Robert W. Goodlatte, R-Va. — wants to see Congress take a piecemeal approach to overhauling the nation's immigration system, while the Senate is on track to begin floor debate on a comprehensive bill next week.
This approach, Price suggested, would allow lawmakers to pass what would be tantamount to comprehensive immigration changes without letting one or two unpopular provisions sink the entire effort, though senators and most House Democrats would like to address many facets of a "broken" system in one go.
And in the event that a House bipartisan working group delivers such a bill to the Judiciary Committee, Price predicted on Wednesday that Goodlatte would just break down the bill into self-contained measures to pass separately.
"That’s not any internal knowledge, that’s just my sense of what would occur because that holds the greatest amount of promise for moving something forward," Price offered by way of a caveat.
One area in which Price expressed considerable skepticism, however, was in Congress' ability to pass, as any part of its immigration overhaul efforts, legislation providing pathways to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.
"I think at this point that would be highly unlikely because I don’t think there is any trust," he said, "and not just [of] of this administration, it's been previous administrations as well. American people don't trust Washington because they broke a promise that was made in 1986" to allow undocumented immigrants to be naturalized while at the same time controlling the borders.
"The first step in regaining that trust is living up to the promise," he said.