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House Will Recess Dec. 13 Despite Deadlines

House Will Recess Dec. 13 Despite Deadlines

By Caitlin Huey-Burns - December 5, 2013

Despite a budget agreement, a farm bill, and other pressing matters hanging in the balance, the House will recess on Dec. 13 until the new year, Speaker John Boehner said Thursday.

“I’ve made it clear that the House is going to leave next Friday,” Boehner told reporters. “And you all know me pretty well: I mean what I say and I say what I mean.”

House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan briefed GOP leadership Thursday morning on the status of negotiations with his Senate counterpart, Patty Murray, with whom he has been meeting this week. The pair say they are getting close to a deal that would set spending levels for about two years and rearrange some of the sequester cuts before another round of the automatic spending reductions goes into effect in mid-January.

Still, Boehner said, “there’s clearly no agreement.”

The speaker has said he will move forward with a continuing resolution if the two budget chairs cannot reach a deal.

The conference committee they head faces a Dec. 13 deadline to pass a measure, as agreed upon in an October deal to re-open the government after a 16-day shutdown -- though funding doesn’t technically run out until mid-January. At the latter date, roughly $20 billion of additional Pentagon cuts (among others) will be triggered, an incentive for both sides to strike a deal by then.

The main point of contention involves a top-line spending level between $1.05 trillion and $967 billion -- the respective preferences of Democrats and Republicans. A two-year deal would be significant given that lawmakers have long been operating on short-term resolutions, and appropriators would be able to move funding bills in regular order.

Boehner has pushed back this week against criticism that this Congress has been the least productive in history, blaming the Senate for not taking up House-passed bills to delay the health care law, approve the Keystone pipeline, and roll back various regulations.

Meanwhile, lawmakers are running out of time to pass a five-year, $1 trillion farm bill that has stalled in Congress over how much to cut from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (or food stamps) and other policy changes. Conference committee members have signaled progress this week, but without an agreement, milk prices are set to spike soon.

Boehner didn’t sound optimistic about this legislation. “I’ve not seen any real progress on the farm bill,” he told reporters. The speaker said he would be prepared to back a one-month extension of current law to give negotiators more time. Senate leaders, however, have expressed opposition to a short-term measure. (Both chambers have passed measures to renew the lapsed bill. The Senate-approved version trims $4 billion over 10 years from food stamp funding, while the House-passed version cuts $20.5 billion.)

Another time-sensitive item on the docket has lawmakers at loggerheads: emergency unemployment benefits for more than a million out-of-work Americans, which will lapse at year’s end. Democrats and the White House have warned that failing to extend the benefits -- federal aid that comes after state unemployment benefits run out-- could hamper the economic recovery. Democrats held a hearing on Thursday to highlight the impact on the unemployed, especially veterans. Boehner said if the president has a proposal, he will look at it. But there is little appetite for an extension among GOP members, who argue that the unemployment rate is lower now than when Congress authorized the extra benefits in 2008. 

Caitlin Huey-Burns is a congressional reporter for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at chueyburns@realclearpolitics.com. Follow her on Twitter @CHueyBurnsRCP.

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