CHN: The Budget is Back on Track
After weeks of being at a standstill, budget conferees will likely be appointed this week and a final budget could be on the floor of the House and Senate next week.
Both Chambers passed their own budget resolutions back in March. However, a final conference agreement seemed unlikely until recently. One of the major issues that stalled the budget process was reconciliation instructions, included in the House budget resolution but not the Senate, a procedure to enforce the requirement that the $70 billion one-year fix to keep the Alternative Minimum Tax from affecting more households be paid for. The Blue Dog Coalition, a fiscally conservative group of House Democrats, warned that they would not vote for a final budget conference bill unless it included the House reconciliation instructions. Meanwhile in the Senate, Senators Olympia Snowe (R-ME) and Susan Collins (R-ME), the only two Republicans to vote for the Senate resolution and whose votes are needed to pass a final conference agreement, stated they would not vote for the final resolution if it included reconciliation instructions. Budget negotiators resolved the impasse by striking a deal with the Blue Dog Coalition. Members of the Blue Dog Coalition agreed to support the final budget resolution without reconciliation instructions, as long as the Budget Committee Chairman Senator Kent Conrad (D-ND) agreed to raise a point of order when the bill comes to the floor, thus requiring 60 votes to forego paying for the AMT fix.
Now that this matter has been resolved, the only other issue that needs to be ironed out is the total discretionary spending number. The House budget provides $3.6 billion more than the Senate. Up until now, budget negotiators have been unable to settle on a figure because key leaders in the House and Senate have been preoccupied with the war supplemental bill. Though advocates were disappointed that both the Senate and House did not go far enough in adding funds for domestic programs, they hope that the budget leaders will agree on the House discretionary spending limit, since it provides the most funds.