Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn. (Drew Angerer / Getty Images)
WASHINGTON — Senate Republicans and White House officials will continue talks about a sequestration-addressing “grand bargain” in August, hoping to continue momentum even with Congress gone until early September.
After months of little movement toward a potential deal, compromise-minded GOP senators whom President Barack Obama has courted said last week that they began negotiations with the White House about a massive fiscal package that would lessen or void pending defense and domestic cuts.
Those senators, in a series of interviews last week, were reluctant to say whether the still-young talks have generated the momentum to produce a mix of additional spending cuts, new revenue and entitlement program savings that experts say is needed to build the kind of $1 trillion grand bargain bill that would shrink or void the remaining nine years of sequestration.
“We’ve had a directional step. It was healthy,” Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., told Defense News last Thursday. “I think that we’ve had some good meetings.”
Although those involved in the talks have acknowledged the timing of Congress’ annual August break would mean negotiations would reach their most serious points after Labor Day, some expressed fear that a pause in so-far productive face-to-face meetings could hinder what could be considered momentum toward a deal.
“My guess is that some intensity will be lost during recess,” Corker said.
To avoid that, the two sides intend to meet at least once during August. “We probably will get together during recess — at least one day,” Corker said.
A White House official declined to comment, but did not deny an August meeting is planned.
GOP senators have been meeting with top Obama aides, including White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, Deputy White House Chief of Staff for Policy Rob Nabors and Office of Management and Budget Director Sylvia Matthews Burwell.
Though Corker and other GOP senators involved in the talks, including Senate Armed Services Committee member Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., last week expressed new hopes about the negotiations, it’s clear political maneuvers and gripes still could derail them.
“We have these meetings, but then, on the other hand, the president is out around the country doing sort of campaignish-style things.”
Asked if such events advanced the closed-door negotiations, Corker responded: “It’s not on message, certainly, with the kinds of conversations we’re having.”
Stan Collender, a longtime Washington budget analyst, said such comments show a grand bargain deal remains a long shot.
“When you add the somehow-still-increasingly-intractable budget politics to the mix, the odds of being right about what’s going to happen get even longer unless you’re suggesting something close to fiscal chaos,” Collender wrote Sunday on his popular budget blog. “That’s what I’m predicting: budget bedlam this fall and beyond.”
Even as GOP senators publicly posture toward hope, Collender and other analysts doubt the on-again-off-again grand bargain talks can overcome over four years of bad blood and political gamesmanship between Republicans and Obama.
“When it comes to the budget there’s so much left to do, so many moving pieces and so little time that the overall situation — let alone the fate of a particular bill — is virtually impossible to predict with any degree of certainty,” Collender wrote.
Collender believes there is “no way” such a fiscal deal is reached “before the next election a year from this November,” and pleads: “Can we all please stop talking about a grand budget bargain this fall as if it is anything but a fantasy?”