Congress turns to spending bills, deficit panel negotiates
WASHINGTON — As members of the congressional deficit reduction panel retreated to conference rooms Monday to continue negotiations, House Republicans and Senate Democrats were putting their final touches on a series of spending bills that they hope will avert another showdown over short-term financing of the government.
This week, the House is expected to vote on three appropriations bills with significant cuts to local law enforcement as well as trims to agriculture, community development and other programs. House Republicans had sought deeper cuts than those reflected in the compromise with Senate Democrats, although many of their priorities are reflected in the bill, including eliminating grants to public transportation agencies to reduce greenhouse gases.
Top lawmakers hope the package of bills will be a vehicle for another short-term spending bill to get the government’s bills paid through mid-December as both chambers cobble together the final bills and try to put to rest the immediate debate over spending for 2012.
Throughout the year, the short-term bills, known as continuing resolutions, have proved a headache for House Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, largely because some of the most conservative members of his conference, seeking more cuts, have voted against them. One such impasse nearly led to the shutdown of the government this year. House Republican leaders are hoping to avoid this with the next set of bills; however, several policy items, specifically a provision reviving higher limits on government-backed mortgage loans, which most House Republicans vehemently oppose, could prove a sticking point.
The discussions among members of the deficit reduction committee reflect the wrangling over spending writ large, and the members’ inability to reach a compromise with less than two weeks to their deadline to present to the full Congress has unnerved lawmakers.
The committee’s 12 members, split among the parties and chambers, continued discussions Monday, sometimes in smaller groups, in the hope of finding a compromise between party positions outlined last week. Added federal revenue remains the sticking point. Among those searching for a compromise are Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont. and chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, and senior House Republicans, including Rep. Dave Camp of Michigan, the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee.
The Democrats’ latest proposal calls for an initial increase of $350 billion of new revenue over 10 years, to be accompanied by instructions to the tax-writing committees to raise $650 billion more. Democrats said their down payment included revenue that could be raised from ending tax breaks for oil and gas producers, the horse-racing industry and owners of corporate jets, and from changing the tax treatment of business inventories.