In his column in Wednesday's Roll Call, former House Rules Committee Staff Director Don Wolfensberger called the whole "regular order" debate a "political Rorschach test." The ink blots are yielding some unexpected questions, however.
One of those questions is whether Senate conservatives would trust House Republicans in a budget conference. In the course of objecting to Senate Democratic attempts to get to a formal House-Senate budget conference committee, Texas GOP Sen. Ted Cruz has demanded that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., commit to not packaging budget reconciliation instructions providing for tax or debt ceiling increases in the package.
"Let me be explicit: We have no objection to proceeding to conference if the leader is willing to agree not to use it as a back-door tool to raise the debt ceiling," Cruz said Tuesday. "The American people are rightly tired of back-room secret deals to raise the debt ceiling even further, and we should not be complicit in digging this nation even further into debt on merely a 50-vote threshold."
But even if Reid and his trusted lieutenant, Budget Chairwoman Patty Murray, D-Wash., want to provide reconciliation instructions in the conference agreement, a majority of the conferees from the Republican-led House would have to be in agreement. Such a move would require the support of House Budget Chairman Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., and presumably other House GOP leaders such as Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio and Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia.
As is often the case, quite a bit of work would take place behind the scenes before any formal budget conference committee would convene, Boehner told Bloomberg television on Tuesday.
"Sen. Murray and Chairman Ryan have been having their initial conversation. We don’t typically to go conference until such a time as it appears that they’re well on their way. If their conversations continue, we get somewhere, we’re going to go," Boehner said. "The regular order can work."
Democrats are pressing Republicans to allow them to quickly make procedural maneuvers that would allow them to insist on a conference with the House, hurrying to what parliamentary experts call the "stage of disagreement." Cruz is not alone among Senate conservatives in wanting to avoid any chance that Reid and Murray enter negotiations with the House Republicans with tax increases and the debt limit on the table.
"What I strongly object to is any procedural trick that could be used to negotiate behind closed doors, in a back-room deal, an agreement to raise the debt limit or to raise taxes," Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, said in echoing Cruz's call on the Senate floor.
For his part, Reid appears to be starting a public campaign for "regular order."
"It's been 45 days since we passed the budget resolution and Republicans are blocking us from taking the next step in regular order. Passing a budget in each chamber is just one step toward restoring regular order. The next step is to sit down and to try to work out our differences," Reid told reporters Tuesday, perhaps skipping through a few steps. "That's what we've done in legislation in the House and the Senate for a couple of centuries."