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Congressional Budget Conference Committee Opens

By Paul Gable

A 29 member budget conference committee opens today that will potentially address all the big spending and tax issues in Washington.

The conference committee was part of the deal that reopened government and raised the federal debt ceiling in the latest congressional standoff.

The committee is supposed to issue a report by December 13th. If that report has the support of at least half of the members of the committee from each house of Congress, the report will go to the full House and Senate for approval.

Sounds easy. However, if the committee fails to reach a broad agreement on taxes and spending by the December time limit, the second round of the sequester cuts, established in the 2011 Budget Control Act, would kick in in mid-January 2014.

You remember the Budget Control Act. It was the act that established sequester cuts if the last budget “Super Committee” couldn’t come up with a grand bargain for a long term plan on reducing government spending by $1.2 trillion over 10 years.

The Super Committee failed to reach an agreement, sequester cuts took effect in March 2013 and here we are today still trying to find an agreement.

Sequester cuts mainly affect federal agencies. There is some sentiment to shifting at least some of the cuts to entitlement spending. This is especially true with respect to the second round of sequester cuts that would affect the Defense Department.

But, Republicans still don’t want to raise taxes at all and Democrats resist cutting entitlements without at least some rise in taxes.

While attention in Washington is being focused on the problems surrounding the Obamacare rollout, the real key to whether the federal government can get anything meaningful done, for the country as a whole, is with this conference committee.

There is some sentiment that a very small ($100 billion or so) set of cuts can be agreed upon to hold off any more sequester cuts. The thought here is such an agreement will give Congress a breather until after the 2014 mid-term elections.

This would really be just another case of kicking the can down the road while members of the House and Senate worry about their own re-election.

Governing, the real job we elect Congress to do is very far down on list of things to accomplish for most members. They are much more worried about their own personal future in Washington than the future of the country.

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