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Can Congress Get Back to Governing?

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Budget conferees will meet next week in public to kick off the conference committee.

Two pivotal conference committees could test the post-shutdown theory that now is the time for both parties and chambers to finally come to the table and resolve their differences.

The high-profile conferences on the budget and the farm bill could serve as the primary sites of legislative activity, but it’s not yet clear how much of either conference’s inner workings the public will get to see.

The long-anticipated budget conference committee is slated to hold its first public meeting on the morning of Oct. 30. Conferees will deliver opening statements that could set the tone for the negotiations to come — but after that it’s anybody’s guess whether, or when, outsiders will again be let into the room. Congressional aides say it’s too early to know.

Already, statements from House Budget Chairman Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., and Senate Budget Chairwoman Patty Murray, D-Wash., and other party leaders seem to suggest the usual deadlock over taxes will persist.

Some House-side lawmakers, even those in leadership, have already begun to grow wary of the possibility that the high-stakes budget negotiations could go on behind closed doors.

“If there is a transparent negotiation, I have more hope than if they say, ‘Well, we are meeting ourselves and then one day we will have one open meeting,’” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., told reporters the day after the shutdown ended. “If there isn’t live coverage, then it is hard to see how a product can come out of it that we can present to our members to say it was an honest debate.”

On the afternoon of Oct. 30, conferees will start reconciling two divergent frameworks for reauthorizing the nation’s farm and nutrition programs.

The biggest challenge will be coming up with a common dollar amount to cut from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps. Senate-passed legislation would cut $4 billion from SNAP; the House endorsed slashing the program by just under $40 billion. Those negotiations are likely to take place in private.

The Senate’s agenda could include a number of contentious executive and judicial branch nominations.

That kicks off with an evening cloture vote on Oct. 28 on Richard F. Griffin Jr.’s nomination to be general counsel at the National Labor Relations Board. Griffin previously held a disputed recess appointment to be a member of the board and his nomination could lead into a partisan standoff over filling the remaining vacant seats on the powerful D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Separately, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., could try to hold up the nomination of Janet L. Yellen to head the Federal Reserve unless he gets a vote on his bill to require Federal Reserve audits.

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