Five things to know about the Ryan-Murray budget conference committee

October 17, 2013

The government shutdown is over. That means the work is just beginning for a group of lawmakers tasked with hashing out a long-term budget deal.

The group, led by Senate Budget Committee Chair Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and her House counterpart Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), was formed as part of the deal to reopen the government and raise the debt ceiling. Murray and Ryan kicked off talks over breakfast Thursday morning.

Here's what you need to know about the group, which the country will have a close eye on during the next couple of months:

1. It has 29 members. The bipartisan, bicameral group includes the entire Senate Budget Committee, as well as four House Republicans and three House Democrats. Here's the full list:

House Republicans: 
Ryan
Rep. Tom Cole (Okla.)
Rep. Tom Price (Ga.)
Rep. Diane Black (Tenn.)

House Democrats:
Rep. James Clyburn (S.C.)
Rep. Chris Van Hollen (Md.)
Rep. Nita Lowey (N.Y.)

Senate Republicans:
Sen. Jeff Sessions (Ala.)
Sen. Charles Grassley (Iowa)
Sen. Mike Enzi (Wyo.)
Sen. Mike Crapo (Idaho)
Sen. Lindsey Graham (S.C.)
Sen. Rob Portman (Ohio)
Sen. Pat Toomey (Pa.)
Sen. Ron Johnson (Wis.)
Sen. Kelly Ayotte (N.H.)
Sen. Roger Wicker (Miss.)

From Senate Democratic Caucus: 
Murray
Sen. Ron Wyden (Ore.)
Sen. Bill Nelson (Fla.)
Sen. Debbie Stabenow (Mich.)
Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vt.)
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (R.I.)
Sen. Mark Warner (Va.)
Sen. Jeff Merkley (Ore.)
Sen. Chris Coons (Del.)
Sen. Tammy Baldwin (Wis.)
Sen. Tim Kaine (Va.)
Sen. Angus King (Maine)

2. Nine of the Republicans voted against Wednesday compromise, including Ryan. Not everybody on the committee supported Wednesday's compromise. Ryan's vote was the most interesting. He bucked his leadership allies to vote "no." There are a couple of plausible reasons for his decision.

One is the weight he carries among House conservatives. They are very loyal to Ryan, and by standing with them on the vote, Ryan didn't sacrifice any of his credibility. Instead, headed into the talks, he telegraphed a sort of I've-got-your-back message. Second, he's the lead negotiator in this group. Stepping into talks fresh off voting for a bill that was tough for many Republicans to swallow Republicans isn't exactly a position of strength.

The other eight Republicans who voted against the bill were Price, Black, Sessions, Grassley, Enzi, Crapo, Toomey, and Johnson.

This group is worth keeping in mind because they are the most conservative members of the panel. To take the pulse of how conservatives feel about emerging deals or sticking points, listen to what these lawmakers are saying.

3. Policy-wise, there is a lot of daylight between Murray and Ryan right now. Murray summed it up this way Thursday morning: "Chairman Ryan knows I'm not going to vote for his budget. I know that he's not going to vote for mine. We're going to find the two common -- the common ground between our two budgets that we both can vote on. And that's our goal."

4. Get used to hearing "sequester," "entitlements" and "revenues" a lot. A big part of the talks will be deciding what to do about the across-the-board spending cuts known as the sequester. Democrats don't like them and Republicans like Ryan say there is a better way to cut spending. So how to replace them? Well, that's where we are going to see disagreements. Look for Republicans to call for replacement cuts in entitlements spending. Democrats might be able to accept such cuts, but under that scenario would probably push for new tax revenue to offset them. Republicans won't like this idea. This much we know: With a new round of sequester cuts set to kick in early next year, the clock is ticking.

5. It's a "supercommittee" reunion of sorts. Murray, Van Hollen, Portman and Clyburn were all part of the 2011 deficit-reduction "supercommittee" that failed to reach an agreement. Will things turn out differently? Murray thinks so.

"The supercommittee goals were much broader, much larger. We have a challenge that's been handed us to have a reconciliation between the Senate budget and the House budget, and those issues are all on the table. We'll be talking about all of them. And our job is to make sure that we have put forward a spending cap and a budget path for this Congress in the next year or two or further if we can," she said Thursday.

Sean Sullivan has covered national politics for The Washington Post since 2012.
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