A budget negotiating panel of Senate and House of Representative members convened for the first time in four years Wednesday, tasked after the partial government shutdown with hammering out a deal avert another fiscal showdown.
"Compromise" and "common ground" were common phrases used in the opening remarks by the 29 members of the bipartisan conference committee. But lawmakers also used their statements to stake out ground for the talks.
Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., the panel's co-chair and chair of the Senate Budget Committee, said the panel should focus on finding a remedy to the automatic spending cuts known as sequestration - a legacy of the 2011 Budget Control Act.
"I agree with those who say the very least this conference should be able to do - the absolute minimum - is find a way to come together around replacing sequestration and setting a budget level for a least the short term," she said. "This won't be easy, the House and Senate budgets are very different even for just this year. But if both sides are willing to move out of their partisan corners and offer up some compromises, I am confident it can be done."
Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., the conference committee's other co-chair and chair of the House Budget Committee, conceded that "the bar is pretty low" for the committee to accomplish something by its Dec. 13 deadline.
"Let's see if we can clear it," Ryan said. "We all agree Washington isn't working. We all agree there's a smarter way to cut spending. We all agree our economy could be doing a lot better. We won't resolve all our differences here. We won't solve all our problems. But we can make a good start. And we should because we owe it to the country."