After touching on Obamacare, Cole moved to another subject: the partial government shutdown and budget talks.
A standoff over the budget, fueled by House Republicans’ efforts to defund or derail Obamacare, triggered the 16-day shutdown. The shutdown ended in mid-October, when Obama signed legislation to reopen the government and avoid a possible default on the nation’s debt.
The deal paved the way for another round of budget talks, as House and Senate lawmakers try to negotiate a spending plan.
Cole, who serves on the budget conference committee, said lawmakers have until Dec. 13 to reconcile the House and Senate budget proposals. He added that the House spending plan balances the budget in a decade, trims spending by $5.7 trillion and includes major reforms to Medicare and Medicaid without raising taxes. On the other hand, the Senate plan cuts about $1.8 trillion in federal spending, raises about $1 trillion in new taxes and includes approximately $270 billion in entitlement reforms.
“In other words, they are really far apart,” Cole said.
If lawmakers fail to agree on a budget by Jan. 15, the government will run out of money to fund its basic operations. That would trigger a second shutdown unless Congress acts.
Lawmakers also have to circle Feb. 7 on their calendars, because that’s the date when the government will exhaust its borrowing authority unless Congress raises the debt ceiling again.
Cole said the budget committee will come up a spending plan, but the final decision will rest with congressional leaders and the president.
“That committee will negotiate something, but I guarantee you the Republican appointees are going to talk to the guys that appointed them, and the Democratic appointees will talk to the people that appointed them,” he said. “And if the answer’s ‘No,’ then I doubt you’re going to come to an arrangement. So there needs to be a lot of talking and a lot of negotiating going on.”