Newspaper article Roll Call

All the Budget Conference's a Stage

Newspaper article Roll Call

All the Budget Conference's a Stage

Article excerpt

How do Republicans and Democrats from the House and Senate conference a partisan budget that is little more than a messaging document? They don't -- at least, not really.

No one truly expects both sides to come to a consensus agreement on the budget. No one even really expects Democrats to play much of a role in the budget conference. It could be, as one Democratic aide with knowledge of the situation predicted, one public meeting "just for show, just to check that box."

But there are plenty of House and Senate differences on the budget that will need to be worked out between Republicans and, well, Republicans.

For starters, and perhaps most importantly, negotiators must work out which committees will be tasked with finding savings in a reconciliation bill. Negotiators could issue reconciliation instructions to all relevant committees -- like the House -- or limit it to a few committees, like the Senate. Much of that will depend on whether conferees want to open up a reconciliation bill to more ideas than simply rolling back the Affordable Care Act. Figuring which committees will have a role in a reconciliation bill is one of the major things to watch in a budget conference that might wrap up its work in a week.

The budget may carry no force of law, but it is a strong message to voters about spending priorities. While the blueprint itself may not ever need the president's signature, it does facilitate a process for a reconciliation bill that could find its way to President Barack Obama's desk. And that bill, which could theoretically dismantle Obamacare, would be an even clearer message to voters that the only person standing in the way of ending the 2010 health care law is the person in the Oval Office.

Once again, just a message. But a message many conservatives think could be key for 2016.

Another hotly contested message -- one that could play an important role in future defense spending decisions -- is how the budget deals with defense spending. Both budgets, in a naked ploy to get around the defense budget caps, parked tens of billions in the Overseas Contingency Operations account to appease defense hawks.

But that's also a difficult needle to thread with fiscal hawks.

The Senate budget established a 60-vote threshold for any OCO spending beyond the $58 billion the president requested in his budget, while the House budget funded and waived points of order up to $96 billion for the OCO account. That spending in the House bill is outside the defense caps set under sequestration and is not offset.

The budget itself is typically an overhyped document, given that it doesn't become law and primarily just sets a topline number for discretionary spending. It's a symbolic fight between Democrats and Republicans in a symbolic conference on a symbolic document. …

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