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Democrats to McConnell: Start Budget Talks Now

Democrats want Republicans to agree to budget talks now rather than wait until a government shutdown showdown. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Senate Democrats have united to say Republican leaders should not wait until after Labor Day to get going on budget talks.  

"With the existence of a clear and urgent deadline for action, we believe it would be unwise to wait until after the Congress returns from the August state work period — just 23 days before the end of the federal fiscal year — to begin talks on a path forward," wrote the entire Democratic Conference in a letter to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. "We cannot afford to wait, only to let delay and inaction bring us to the brink of another totally predictable and completely preventable crisis."  

Counting all 23 days that come between the return just after Labor Day and the end of fiscal 2015 is actually a charitable assessment by the Democrats, since weekends and Jewish holidays reduce the number of expected days in session.  

Democrats have insisted for months that they will not accept spending levels provided under current law, a situation that's jammed up appropriations bills as they call for dollar-for-dollar increases in domestic and defense discretionary spending.  

"Inaction and failure to responsibly restore sequester-level cuts in FY16 appropriations bills will have real consequences for our country. That is why we are eager to start working as soon as possible to negotiate a compromise that will keep our nation and economy strong, and keep the government open," the 46 members of the Senate Democratic Conference — which includes two independents — said.  

McConnell has been steadfast in insisting there will not be a government shutdown on his watch, and he told reporters shortly before leaving for the August recess that meant there would need to be bipartisan budget talks, though there has been no timeline.  

"That’s what we do here. And both of these issues will generate a discussion about spending. And all of that will be addressed in the fall. I’m not opposed to negotiation," McConnell said, speaking of both the upcoming government funding and debt limit battles. "Each side will have to give some things we don’t want to give."  

Beyond the big picture question of what the top-line spending levels should be, there will be no shortage of policy riders to work through, including what to do about funding of Planned Parenthood. That's become a cause célèbre this year, with conservatives in particular pushing for using any leverage possible to stop federal dollars from going to the organization. McConnell has said, however, that the hot-button issue will not lead to a lapse in government funding, either.

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