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The annual spending group has perhaps the biggest challenge: Can agreement be reached to turn off the sequester and turn back on the broken appropriations process? A set of five-year caps to overall spending, split between spending on domestic programs and national security programs, could be agreed on and given to appropriators to work out details with a deadline. Unfortunately, there is a huge difference between my small-government wing of the Republican Party and the anti-government tea party conservatives. As I see it, tea party members don’t feel compelled to “govern” or find solutions when they disagree with the opposing party. Their behavior suggests that they would rather just focus on the next election instead of trying to get something done for the good of the country.
Democrats have their own challenges. The amount of agency spending in the Republicans’ House budget resolution is the law under the Budget Control Act, and it assumes a second round of sequester cuts will occur in January under that same law. Democrats want to find a way to raise that number, but are unwilling to alter Obamacare or any of the other vast entitlement programs to affect the huge fiscal burdens they place on future generations.
These philosophical dynamics have created a situation where the country is lurching from crisis to crisis. This trajectory is unsustainable. We need a grand fiscal bargain and the budget conference committee is our best hope.
So my advice to the new committee is, start with the pizza. Sit down and get to know one another before starting the negotiations. Before digging in your heels and deciding that nothing can be accomplished, learn a little about each other and you’ll realize that you all love America and really do care about its future. You might find that you’re not as different as you think.
Jim Nussle is a former director of the White House Office of Management and Budget under President George W. Bush and former chairman of the House Budget Committee. He is founder of The Nussle Group in Washington, D.C.