House Republicans have no plans to appoint a conference committee to hammer out a budget deal with Senate Democrats, Rep. Paul Ryan said Tuesday, arguing that the move is pointless unless private talks bring the two sides closer to agreement.
“What we want to do is have constructive dialogues to find out where the common ground is and then go to conference when we have a realistic chance of actually coming out with an agreement,” said Ryan (R-Wis.), who chairs the House Budget Committee.
Noting that he met last week with Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), his counterpart in the Senate, Ryan said: “We’re going to keep talking and we’re going to keep meeting and that’s our plan.”
Democrats quickly accused Ryan of hypocrisy, noting that he and other Republicans have for months criticized President Obama for negotiating “backroom deals” with congressional leaders over tax and spending policies. Republicans passed their own spending plan in March and then badgered Senate Democrats to adopt their first budget blueprint since 2009 so Congress could return to the more transparent legislative process to reconcile their fiscal differences, a process known as “regular order.”
“We have had the Republicans yelling, screaming, sometimes violently, to have regular order,” Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) told reporters. “Does [Ryan] want regular order? Obviously not.”
Privately, GOP aides said the delay is a practical one: If a conference committee fails to produce legislation within 20 days, the door opens to a flood of nonbinding motions that are often designed to force embarrassing votes for use in campaign ads.
But after spending nearly 20 hours taking dozens of such votes last month as part of their own budget process, Senate Democrats are unsympathetic. Murray said she has spoken to Reid about appointing Senate conferees to ratchet up pressure on the House.
In the meantime, she said, “I’m happy to sit down and talk to Chairman Ryan, and have been, about the best path forward. . . . But we are not going to get there by staring across a vast sky. We need to sit down at a table and work it out, and I think a conference committee is the best way to do that.”
With the need to raise the federal debt limit once again looming this summer, Ryan said a conference committee remains the most likely path to a deal. And although the issues are sensitive, the former vice presidential nominee said he wants to serve as chief negotiator for his party and will not take a pass as he did in the fall of 2011, when House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) asked him to serve on a bipartisan debt-reduction panel known as the ”supercommittee.”
“I didn’t do the supercommittee because I didn’t see that it was going to lead to anything,” Ryan said. “I think this has a much better chance of leading to something.”