Jim Nussle: For Budget Conference, Start With The Pizza

Oct 30, 2013 | Budgets & Projections

Today was the first meeting of the budget conference committee negotiating over this year's discretionary spending levels. Although the first meeting was devoted to opening statements from the 29 lawmakers, it sets the tone for the debate over the next month and a half. Jim Nussle, a former House Budget Committee Chairman who shepherded six budgets through the committee process and CRFB co-chair, provided some recommendations today in Roll Call to the nation's first conference committee since 2009. First, lawmakers should take a piece of advice from last month's agreement over the debt ceiling: "congressional leadership staff wheeled in dozens of pizzas and, suddenly, sharply divided party lines melted away and a deal was reached."

Joking aside, Nussle notes that the two budget blueprints serving as the starting point for the conference committee are "starkly different." Although he admits the odds of the conference committee's success are not great, but they could be improved by adopting some lessons from Nussle's time as chair.

Procedurally, Nussle provided six recommendations for ground rules:

  • Nothing is agreed to until everything is agreed to.
  • Everyone involved must present a plan, as opposed to simply tearing down someone else’s.
  • A conferee’s physical presence is required at meetings.
  • Staff is limited to the technical experts.
  • No grandstanding allowed.
  • Both House and Senate Budget Committee chairs agree to listen to and support each other whenever possible.

On substance, Nussle recommended that the conference committee chairs do three things:

  • Establishing goals for bottom-line numbers.
  • Establishing a calendar of activities due Dec. 1.
  • Assigning subconferences specific areas of focus, with deadlines to report back to the full conference.

On the last point, Nussle specifically recommended that the budget committee consider revenue growth from tax reform and hear recommendations from the chairmen of the tax-writing committees Dave Camp (R-MI) and Max Baucus (D-MT), although neither sit on the conference committee.

The next meeting of the budget conference committee is on November 13th. Hopefully, the committee members, particularly the chairs of the committee Congressman Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) will take some of Nussle's ideas and emphasize areas of agreement, rather then the differences between the two parties:

So my advice to the new committee is, start with the pizza. Sit down and get to know one another before starting the negotiations. Before digging in your heels and deciding that nothing can be accomplished, learn a little about each other and you’ll realize that you all love America and really do care about its future. You might find that you’re not as different as you think.

Read the full post here.

"My Views" are works published by members of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, but they do not necessarily reflect the views of all members of the committee.