On Thursday morning, the four leading budget conferees ate breakfast together and told reporters afterward that they were committed to engaging in good-faith negotiations on a whole host of pressing fiscal concerns between now and mid-December.
The House’s two top Democrats, however, are already concerned that those crucial talks could be tainted by the fallout over the government shutdown and the near-missed deadline to raise the debt ceiling.
Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md., both expressed consternation Thursday about the overwhelming House GOP opposition to the Senate’s compromise legislation to reopen government extend the debt ceiling until early next year: 144 Republicans voted “no.”
“Everyone described it as, ‘Oh, it’s just a few, it’s 30-some,’” Pelosi said at her Thursday press briefing, referring to the number of House Republicans who wanted to tie government funding to defunding Obamacare. “But 62 percent of their caucus voted to default on the full faith and credit of the United States.”
“The significant majority of Republicans voted to keep government shut down and bypass [Oct.] 17th without fully paying our debts. I thought, ‘That’s not a good sign,’” Hoyer told CQ Roll Call in an interview.
But the center of their worries is House Budget Chairman
Paul D. Ryan
, R-Wis., a leader of the bicameral, bipartisan budget conference who
Pelosi and Hoyer fear that Ryan’s unwillingness to vote for the Senate-negotiated fiscal package on Wednesday could portend an unwillingness to engage in the kind of frank, bipartisan compromise necessary to finalize a fiscal 2014 budget by the Dec. 13 deadline.
“I was very disappointed that Paul Ryan voted against keeping the government open and paying our bills. It was a tough vote, but this time he took a hard-line path,” Hoyer said. “I hope after he goes into negotiations with [Senate Budget Chairwoman] Patty Murray and others in the conference, he will take a more constructive, positive solution.”
Pelosi agreed, adding that she was also bothered by the “no” vote of Senate Budget Committee ranking member Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., a leader on the budget conference as well.
“They did not vote for this bill that takes us to the table,” Pelosi said. “So, [it will be] interesting to see what that means, what is to be inferred.”
In a statement following the Wednesday night vote, Ryan called the bill “a missed opportunity.”
“To pay our bills today — and to make sure we can pay our bills tomorrow — we must make a down payment on the debt. Today’s legislation won’t help us reduce our fast-growing debt,” he continued. “In my judgment, this isn’t a breakthrough. We’re just kicking the can down the road.”
On Thursday, at the budget conference’s post-breakfast news conference, Ryan was asked to explain his reason for voting against the legislation, hashed out by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, R-Nev., and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.
“Look, we want to have smart deficit reduction. We want to grow the economy. We think the budget process is the way to do that,” Ryan said. “I put a statement out last night explaining exactly my concerns. That speaks for itself.”
He added, “I want to have a budget agreement that gets this debt and deficit under control. . . . And we’re going to try and figure out if we can find an agreement to do that.”
Of the four House Republicans who were appointed to serve on the budget conference, Ryan was not the only one to vote against the bill, despite GOP leadership’s encouragement to vote in favor. Conferees Diane Black of Tennessee and Tom Price of Georgia both voted “no,” while Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma, an ally of Speaker John A. Boehner, backed the measure.
In an interview with CNN on Thursday morning, Cole appeared hopeful that a budget agreement was within reach.
“I actually think from a Republican standpoint, we’re on very strong ground here with the sequester being something honestly that both sides want to get rid of and with the president having put some entitlement reform in his budget. I can see the elements of a deal here and I hope we can keep working and find that deal,” he said.