Donnelly: Bipartisan Senate Group Will Stay Involved in Budget Talks
Formal negotiations rest with House and Senate budget chairs
Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-Indiana)(WIBC.com file photo: Eric Berman)
It's now up to the House and Senate's budget negotiators to come up with a longterm spending plan, but a bipartisan group of senators which helped break the logjam will be looking over their shoulders.
Indiana Democrat Joe Donnelly was among 14 senators credited with jump-starting negotiations after a two-week stalemate. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) rejected the proposal the group came up with, but the talks opened the door to discussions between Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky), and produced some elements incorporated into the final agreement.
The negotiations on a longer-term spending plan are in the hands of a 29-member conference committee led by Senate Budget Chair Patty Murray (D-Washington) and House Budget Chair Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin). But Donnelly says leaders have invited the 14 senators to "make suggestions if things start to bog down."
Past attempts at a bipartisan spending compromise have begun with similar fanfare and then collapsed, most notably the so-called supercommittee two years ago. Donnelly says he's hopeful the strain of what he says was an unnecessary 16-day shutdown has made lawmakers more open to a deal, preferably for more than just the next year.
Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine) began the side discussions. The eventual group of 14 included nine freshmen, with four of them, including Donnelly, in their first year in the Senate. Donnelly says the group ended up having more impact than their lack of seniority would normally allow because members were able to work well together at a time when other negotiations were stalled or nonexistent.
The entire 22-member Senate Budget Committee has been named to the conference committee. That gives the Collins group two members on the inside of negotiations: Senators Kelly Ayotte (R-New Hampshire) and Angus King (I-Maine).
It's the second time this year one of Indiana's senators has been involved in back-channel attempts to end the budget stalemate. Dan Coats was part of a group of Republican senators dubbed the "Diners Club" which met first with President Obama and then with White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough over the summer. Coats says he's skeptical any negotiation can resolve the philosophical differences between the parties on raising taxes which ultimately scuttled those talks.