WASHINGTON (AP) — Republicans for years have criticized Democrats controlling the Senate for failing to pass a budget. But now that the Senate has passed its first budget in four years, it's Republicans in charge of the House who are dragging their feet on naming negotiators to iron out the gaping differences between the chambers.
House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said Republicans only want to name negotiators when the framework of an agreement has already been pretty much worked out.
"We want to go to conference when we feel we have a realistic chance of getting an agreement," Ryan told reporters Tuesday, according to The Hill, a publication that specializes in covering Congress.
At issue are negotiations on the congressional budget resolution, a non-binding blueprint that sets goals for follow-up legislation. A conference committee is an official House-Senate negotiating panel.
What may be really motivating House Republicans to delay is a wish to avoid a series of politically difficult votes that Democrats could force upon them soon after a conference committee is named. Democrats could force such votes on a daily basis for months if negotiations drag on, and the tallies on highly charged topics like Medicare could produce fodder for campaign commercials.
"We don't want to ... have an endless process that focuses on our differences," Ryan said.
The attempt to resurrect Congress' convoluted and partisan budget process comes after several high-profile failures over the past two years to strike a budget deal, including two failed sets of talks between President Barack Obama and House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and the failure of a deficit-reduction "supercommittee" at the end of 2011.
Boehner quit negotiations with Obama in December and he's taken a tough stand against demands by the president and Democrats for higher tax revenues since Obama in January won more than $600 billion in higher taxes over the coming decade on wealthier people. Democrats, in turn, say they won't consider cuts to Medicare or Social Security unless Republicans yield further revenues.
Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray, D-Wash., said the House should name negotiators even though the possibility of reaching an agreement may be slim.
"I think it's incredibly challenging. I would be the first person in the world to tell you how difficult it is," Murray told reporters. "But I also know that we are not going to get there just by staring across a vast sky. We need to sit down at a table and work it out."
Ryan has said the best chances for an agreement is a budget pact that falls short of the larger-scale deficit savings envisioned by Boehner and Obama in their talks last year.