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Pessimism abounds at annual fiscal 'summit'

Published on NewsOK Modified: May 7, 2013 at 3:44 pm •  Published: May 7, 2013
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"You wouldn't get any sense that the ice was melting or the ground was shifting in any way," said audience member Robert Bixby, executive director of the Concord Coalition, a non-partisan anti-deficit group.

There was less nitty-gritty talk on the budget from Peterson's two marquee guests, former President Bill Clinton and Microsoft founder Bill Gates. Both called for protecting federal investments in science and research. And both fretted about global warming, a topic that's largely slid off of the Washington agenda.

For her part, Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray, D-Wash., was eager to exploit Republicans' refusal to appoint a House-Senate negotiating panel on the starkly different House GOP and Senate Democratic budget plans. She chided Republicans for spending years assaulting Democrats for not passing a budget only to refuse to negotiate under "regular order" now that Democrats have passed one.

Ryan gently pointed out that what Democrats are really after is the right, under Capitol Hill's arcane rules, to offer nonbinding, politically charged budget votes. They can't do that unless an official House-Senate conference committee is named. He observed that such votes would actually harm prospects for an agreement since it would put the House on record against reducing Social Security COLAs, for instance.

To sum up, Congress is not only gridlocked over the budget but it's gridlocked over how to begin negotiating over the budget.

"We can't even get an agreement in principle to begin talking," Ryan said.

Ryan and Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, said an upcoming need to increase the government's borrowing cap could provide the impetus for any potential agreement. But it's increasingly looking as though the deadline for increasing the so-called debt limit won't come until October instead of August, adding months of further budget delays.

That's because the government's finances are doing a little better than had been earlier thought. The Congressional Budget Office offered the latest proof on Tuesday with a study saying the deficit for the 2013 budget year that started last October is running $231 billion below the deficit for a comparable period in 2012. Revenues are running 16 percent higher over the period, while spending is 2 percent less.