StanCollender'sCapitalGainsandGames Washington, Wall Street and Everything in Between

Don't Take This Week's Budget Conference Committee Meeting Seriously

27 Oct 2013
Posted by Stan Collender

The speculation about what the conference committee -- the 29-person House-Senate committee that has until December 13 to negotiate a budget deal and which will meet for the first time this Wednesday -- will do will be intense all this week.

In fact, if history is any indication, every interest group in town will be so certain that the one thing it most cares about will be given away in the opening session that it will denounce what the conference committee does even before the first meeting begins.

And pundits across the political spectrum will be predicting that the conference committee will defy expectations and a big budget deal of some kind not only is possible but actually likely.

The technical term for all of this is B.S. (and I don't mean "Bachelor of Science").

The meeting on Wednesday is just the opening session. The 29 members of the conference committee won't do anything other than preen for the cameras and give 5-minute opening statements. 29x5 = almost two and a half hours of vapid oral essays that will have no bearing at all on the deliberations.

This first meeting will take place roughly 6 weeks before December 13. When is the last time Congress has done anything substantive on the budget that far in advance of a deadline?

The conference committee has 29 members. When is the last time a congressional group that large has been able to come up with any kind of serious compromise on spending and taxes?

Recent budget history has repeatedly proven that one of two things is most likely to happen. The first is that the full conference committee will continue to meet and, like the anything-but-super-committee, come up with nothing. The second is that a much smaller group -- as in two people, neither of which may even be conference committee members -- negotiates separately and then presents their plan to the committee for formal ratification approval.

(A third possibility, and the one I'll explain in a future post is most likely, is that the conference committee accomplishes nothing and the mid-January sequester goes into effect as scheduled.)

The bottom line is that its important not to overreact to anything the budget conference committee does this week. Not only will the meetings be very preliminary; they almost certainly will be virtually insignificant.


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