WASHINGTON — Lawmakers from both parties opened high-level budget negotiations Wednesday with a warning that no one should expect a large, long-term, “grand bargain”-type deal that involves curbing government spending, overhauling the tax code or revamping entitlement programs.
Instead, both sides seemed to agree that the best they can hope for is to reach an agreement to fund the federal government through fiscal 2014, which ends next Sept. 30.
The 29 handpicked members of the House of Representatives and Senate who compose the bipartisan committee, tasked after the partial government shutdown earlier this month with hammering out a deal to avert another fiscal showdown, also used their opening remarks Wednesday to stake out positions for the negotiations and protect priorities important to their constituencies.
“I want to say this from the get-go: If this conference becomes an argument about taxes, we’re not going to get anywhere,” said House Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan, R-Wis., who’s the chair of the conference committee. “We won’t resolve all our differences here. We won’t solve all our problems. But we can make a good start.”
Democratic and a few Republican conferees signaled a desire to do something to revamp or replace the automatic budget cuts known as sequestration, a legacy of the 2011 Budget Control Act.
Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., the chair of the Senate Budget Committee, said the panel should focus on alleviating sequestration’s effect, adding that she was “ready to agree to some tough spending cuts that, unlike the sequester caps that disappear in 2022, would be locked into law.”
She added that she’d make that deal in return for Republicans agreeing to work with Democrats to “scour the bloated tax code — and close some wasteful tax loopholes and special interest subsidies.” That’s important because it signaled a way to raise revenues without having to take a vote for new taxes.