Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget
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CRFB and FTD Publish Q&A on the Budget Conference

Apr 21, 2015 | Budgets & Projections

We published a paper with our partners at Fix the Debt last week to help answer questions about the budget conference committee that met for the first time yesterday. The paper answers many common questions about a budget conference – from its goals and its timeline to the differences that the conferees need to settle –and tells us what we can expect when they agree to a concurrent resolution. Below are some of the highlights.

Click here to read the full paper.

What is a budget conference?

A budget conference is a process by which the House and Senate iron out the differences in the budget resolutions they each passed separately to arrive at a unified “concurrent budget resolution” that each chamber will then vote on whether to adopt. The leaders of each party and budget committee in both the Senate and House chose members to participate in the conference committee.

What is a concurrent budget resolution?

After both chambers agreed to their own budget resolutions that set spending and revenue levels over the coming years, they must pass a single agreed-upon concurrent resolution. Although the House and Senate both vote on a concurrent budget resolution, it is not signed by the President and thus does not carry the force of law; however, it can establish rules for Congress that make future laws easier or harder to enact. For more on the rules aspects in these budgets, see our paper Budget Process in the FY 2016 Budget Resolutions.

Where are the two sides starting from as we enter the new budget conference?

The budgets passed by the House and Senate are similar in many ways, but there are differences that must be worked out. All told, the House includes $5.5 trillion of deficit reduction compared to the Senate’s $4.9 trillion, and the House reaches balance in 2024, one year earlier than the Senate’s 2025. Arguably much more important than the top-line numerical differences, however, are a number substantive rules differences between each budget. We delved further into these issues in a variety of blogs.

What happens after the budget conference?

If the conference agrees to a single budget blueprint, it is then voted on by both chambers – receiving special "fast track" consideration that cannot be delayed by a filibuster – and can pass by a simple majority.

What should policymakers do now?

The budget conference is a perfect place to instruct relevant committees to find long-lasting solutions to our long-term fiscal challenges and to diminish the frequency and intensity of the showdowns the country has become accustomed to in the last few years. Both the House and Senate budget resolutions this spring called for putting debt on a downward path as a share of the economy, and the same should be expected from the conference committee recommendations and any subsequent action.

The other questions that are answered in the full paper are:

  • Over what time period will the conference negotiate?
  • Who is in the budget conference?
  • How many people have to agree to the recommendations?
  • What cannot be decided in a budget resolution?
  • When was the last time we had a budget conference?
  • When was the last time we had a conferenced concurrent budget resolution?
  • What is budget reconciliation?
  • How does the budget conference relate to the debt limit?

To read the answers to these other questions, and more detailed answers to questions about the budget conference, you can read the full paper here.