Line Items: Trick or Treat Edition

Conference Calls – While many of us prepare for a spooky adventure Thursday night, the day before will mark the beginning of another eerie undertaking. Conference committees for both the budget and farm bill begin formal deliberations on Wednesday. While Americans will go door-to-door seeking treats and watch out for tricks, lawmakers will have to negotiate a lengthier and more complex journey with lots of potential for mischief and few treats in store. Besides the work of those committees and the fiscal deadlines immediately ahead, Congress isn’t planning to take on much else for the remainder of the year, with the possible exception of immigration reform. The Senate is back from last week’s recess and will work on several nominations, but the House plans to leave town after Wednesday and not return until mid-November. The agreements that the conferences make, or fail to make, will have repercussions that will be felt long after the candy sacks are emptied. Scary, indeed! 

Can Negotiators Conjure Up a Budget Deal? – The budget conferees start far apart on appropriations in terms of spending levels. The House budget stays within the sequestration level while the Senate version does not, resulting in the Senate calling for $91 billion more in spending in fiscal year 2014, all on the non-defense side. As we point out, the two budgets also differ in how much they reduce the deficit and how the savings are achieved, although they both put debt on a downward path. The divide will not be easy to bridge. The two lead negotiators, Senate Budget Committee chair Patty Murray (D-WA) and House Budget Committee chair Paul Ryan (R-WI) start off with low expectations, with the focus on altering the automatic spending cuts of sequestration. But even that may be a heavy lift as there is little agreement on what changes to make. The White House has created a small opening by implying that additional revenue may not be required to get a limited deal to moderate the sequester. We offer a helpful reminder that, while economic growth is important to addressing the national debt, growth is not a panacea. Need to know more about the budget conference committee? Learn all you need to know with our new primer.    

Can Lawmakers Finally Harvest a Farm Bill? – Agreeing to renew the farm bill has been akin to finding the Great Pumpkin. Another set of negotiators will meet Wednesday to begin the process of reconciling farm bills passed by the two chambers. In this case, the main difference is regarding food stamps, with the House bill calling for $35 billion more in cuts over 5 years than the Senate version. The program will already see a $5 billion cut beginning on November 1 because of the expiration of a 2009 stimulus provision which increased benefits. Crop insurance and subsidies for farmers are also key items eyed for changes in the farm bill. The previous farm bill expired last year.

Key Upcoming Dates (all times are ET)

October 30, 2013

  • Budget Conference Committee meets at 10 am.
  • Farm bill conference committee meets at 1 pm.
  • Bureau of Labor Statistics releases September 2013 Consumer Price Index data.

November 1, 2013

  • A $5 billion cut to food stamps will begin due to expiration of a stimulus provision.

November 7, 2013

  • Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on the impact of sequestration on national defense at 9: 30 am.
  • Bureau of Economic Analysis releases advance estimate of 3rd quarter GDP.

November 8, 2013

  • Bureau of Labor Statistics releases October 2013 employment data.

November 20, 2013

  • Bureau of Labor Statistics releases October 2013 Consumer Price Index data.

December 13, 2013

  • Date by which the budget conference committee must report to Congress

January 1, 2014

  • The "doc fix," temporary tax extenders, extended unemployment insurance benefits, and the farm bill expire.

January 15, 2014

  • The continuing resolution funding the federal government expires
  • 2014 sequester cuts take effect
  • First set of IPAB recommendations expected

February 7, 2014

  • The extension of the statutory debt ceiling expires