WASHINGTON — US House and Senate budget negotiators are unlikely to produce a final 2016 federal spending measure this week, says a key member.
Senate Budget Committee Chairman Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., is advising against expecting to see a compromise budget resolution by the time both chambers adjourn for the weekend.
"We haven't even named conferees, so we can't do anything," Enzi said Tuesday.
But ample progress in the budget talks has been made.
Enzi has been meeting with House Budget Committee Chairman Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., to begin ironing out differences in the chambers' budget blueprints. The two legislators and senior staffers engaged in talks during Congress' recent two-week recess. period.
House Budget Committee Ranking Member Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., on Tuesday accused Price and Enzi of locking Democrats out of what he dubbed their "secret" negotiations.
Asked if the two have come to agreement on any details, Enzi quipped: "There are a lot of them."
He added that he and Price have agreed on some of those details.
The House passed a $3.8 trillion budget plan that would fund the Pentagon at the level of existing spending caps, $499 billion. It also approved a $96 billion overseas contingency operations fund that would give the Defense Department $90 billion in war funds.
The Senate's version is $3.5 trillion, and also funds the Pentagon's base budget at the cap level. Its war fund for the military is $89 billion.
Both chambers included nearly $40 billion more in OCO funding to appease defense hawks, who continue to warn the military is underfunded.
Van Hollen and Senate Budget Committee Ranking Member Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., criticized the move, saying the account has become a "slush fund."
House leaders, a few hours after Enzi spoke, named their budget conferees.
Price and Van Hollen will join Appropriations defense subcommittee member Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla.; Rep. Diane Black, R-Tenn., Rep. Todd Rokita, R-Ind., Rep. John Moolenaar, R-Mich., and Democratic Reps. John Yarmuth of Kentucky and Gwen Moore of Wisconsin.
Senate leaders have yet to name their budget negotiators, but an aide said that should happen later Wednesday.
Senate Majority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., announced on the floor Wednesday morning that the upper chamber will move to the budget resolution. He said votes are expected throughout the day, and the aide said that should include naming conferees.
Moments later, Minority Leader Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., continued Van Hollen's line of criticism about the Republican-run budget talks.
Reid said the House-Senate conference process has become a "joke around here."
"We don't have conferences like we used to. And that's too bad," Reid said. "There will be no meeting of the conferees. There will be no debate and open session [on] how the budget should be changed.
"The Republicans, they'll get to conference, there will be a meeting held by the Republicans," he said. "Democrats won't be invited, and if they are invited, it's pro forma: Here's what we [Republicans] decided to do. The conferences as we used to do them around here don't exist. It's on a rare occasion they do."