Lawmakers made no visible progress Wednesday on a stopgap spending bill to reopen federal government with the Senate once again rejecting piecemeal funding bills favored by the House. The funding impasse has kept the government shut down since the new federal fiscal year began October 1st.
The focus today is on a White House meeting between President Obama and House Republican leaders aimed at trying to find an opening for ending the shutdown. One proposal from House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) will certainly be part of the discussion. Ryan’s plan calls for a six-week, $118 billion debt limit increase with dollar-for-dollar budget cuts. Before the increase is approved, however, both the House and Senate would have to agree to overhaul the tax code and entitlement programs during those six weeks and pass them, along with a long-term debt limit increase, when the six-week period expires. Finally, it would have some enforcing trigger, although the specifics were not announced, nor were the specifics of the cuts Ryan is seeking. It appears to be a similar proposal to previous ones that the Democrats have already rejected and it doesn’t specifically address the government shutdown. But it does signal that the GOP has finally shifted away from defunding the health reform law to broader fiscal issues.
The Ryan proposal seems to a starting point for discussions that will take place with President Obama today, but the ultimate outcome is still uncertain. Even if everyone comes to some agreement to this short-term debt limit increase in exchange for reopening government, it seems unlikely that lawmakers can resolved their differences on tax and entitlement issues in just six weeks. And if the “enforcing trigger” is anything like what happened with sequestration, then we may be facing more pain before this is all over.