As you will recall from our last blog, the agreement to end the government shutdown included the creation of a bipartisan and bicameral budget conference committee to develop a spending plan by December 13, 2013. The 29 conferees convened for the first time Wednesday, October 30 and are tasked with attempting to resolve the two vastly different versions of the FY 2014 House and Senate-passed budgets, which are $91 billion apart on overall discretionary funding. Each conferee was given five minutes to speak and comments signaled that the two parties, as expected, will likely focus on achieving narrower goals – enough deficit reductions to avoid the next sequester – as opposed to a “grand bargain” of $1 trillion or more in deficit reductions over the next decade.
House Appropriations Chair Hal Rogers (R-KY) and Senate Appropriations Chair Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) sent a letter to conference committee leadership last week asking that they agree on a top-line FY 2014 overall discretionary appropriations number by December 2 to allow enough time to finish all pending appropriations bills before the current Continuing Resolution (CR) expires on January 15. The letter also asked that the FY 2015 overall discretionary number be included in the agreement, stressing their desire for a return to regular order as opposed to a current reliance on CRs to fund government operations.
Considering the looming December 13 deadline and the number of issues discussed in last week’s initial meeting – from sequester repeal to taxes to entitlement reform – much of the conference committee’s work will occur behind the scenes. Their next public meeting is scheduled for November 13. Please stay tuned to Health Centers on the Hill for updates!