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Doubts Bedevil Appropriations Conference

Mortgage Size Limits at Center of Debate

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo
House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers (left) has left negotiations with the Senate over a minibus to his panel’s subcommittee leaders.

They came, they saw and they gaveled.

House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) last week heralded the first conference committee on an appropriations bill since 2009, saying he’s overseen a “huge improvement” in restoring regular order, before gaveling the meeting to a close minutes later.

But despite Rogers’ optimism, there are lingering concerns about the substance of conferees’ negotiations and whether they can overcome some significant policy differences, including a serious disagreement over how expensive of a home mortgage the federal government should be insuring.

Rogers and Rep. Norm Dicks (Wash.), the top Democrat on the spending panel, vow that their lieutenants are doing the heavy lifting on negotiations with the Senate over a three-bill minibus. “These subcommittee chairmen and ranking members are at work, have been for days now,” Rogers said Friday.

But still undecided is whether the conference committee will meet again to hash out disagreements with public votes. The House is in recess this week, and while Rogers asked Members to be “available” for continued negotiations, he didn’t ask for them to be physically present.

“I hope that it’s a real conference committee,” said Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.), a conferee and chairman of the Appropriations subpanel that deals with agricultural matters. “I will say this, that the bicameral dialogue has been going on, and the bipartisan dialogue. Whether the committee gets into every single issue or not, we are having real negotiations.”

Still present, though, are the bitter memories of recent opaque appropriations battles. One conservative GOP House Member not on the conference committee said he didn’t know — and didn’t care — who the conferees were.

“Mommy and Daddy are doing the negotiating. The kids aren’t,” the lawmaker told Roll Call.

The same source described the simmering tension between conservatives and appropriators over disaster aid in relation to the spending levels in the minibus. Some conservatives feel they have compromised enough by not pushing for spending cuts even beyond those in the budget sponsored by Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and passed earlier this year.

The Republican Study Committee “came in, said we want a lower number than the Ryan budget. We compromised, [and] we supported Ryan’s at $1.019 trillion. We compromise again [during the debt ceiling negotiations], it’s at $1.043 trillion. And now, it’s even higher. It’s a bridge too far,” the lawmaker said.

Appropriators say the issue is moot.

“It’s a done issue. Whether you like it or not, it’s what it is,” said Rep. Tom Latham (R-Iowa), the chairman of the Appropriations subpanel dealing with transportation matters and a close ally of Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio).

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