Though talks between cochairs Ryan and Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray, D-Wash., are ongoing, it is becoming clear that Republicans are growing less concerned about reaching an agreement ahead of the Dec. 13 deadline, potentially putting Congress on a path toward another last-minute deal to keep the government functioning. The current continuing resolution expires Jan. 15.
As Allison put it, "If we don't do anything, the government doesn't shut down, there's not a second sequester that hits, there's not a debt limit, so if we fail to reach an agreement by December 13, the world keeps spinning and everything's fine."
Still, some say the expectations remain. Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., another member of the conference committee, said Monday that he wasn't so sure that pressure on Republicans was lessening. "I thought there was always pressure to do something before the 13th of December, irrespective of what happened in the intervening time. I still feel the pressure is on all of us to do something before December 13th."
Asked if he thought there'd be a deal, Clyburn was less confident. "I don't know. This is the third time around for me. Didn't work too well the first two times. Let's hope the third time's the charm," he said.
Democrats say they are open to certain spending cuts in exchange for revenue hikes, potentially in the form of closing tax loopholes that the party outlined last week. But Republicans are insistent that changes to the tax code should be left out of the budget negotiations — they prefer to tackle them in a tax-reform package — and have thus far shown little openness to revenue hikes of any kind.
"A budget agreement won't happen if Democrats continue to insist on more tax hikes for American families and employers, which will cost us more jobs and hurt our economy," House Speaker John Boehner said Friday. "Chairman Ryan, Senator [Mitch] McConnell, myself have all been clear: The president got his tax hike in January."
Even if budget negotiators were to reach an agreement by Dec. 13, it would not be binding. Congress would still have to write and pass a series of appropriations bills to fund the government. And with just one week's worth of legislative days in January before the current CR expires on the 15th, that's asking a lot.
As a result, Appropriations Committee Chairs Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., in the Senate and Harold Rogers, R-Ky., in the House have asked budget negotiators to send them a topline budget figure as early as Friday, in order to allow their committees time to prepare appropriations bills for fiscal 2014. But few believe the conference committee will hit that goal.
Van Hollen said he sees little sign of progress in the private negotiations between Murray and Ryan, or in the broader discussions with the other members of the committee. He put the chances of the committee coming to a deal by the Dec. 13 deadline at "50-50."