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Budget conference committee members named; can they finally do the job?

For the last few days of September and the first 16 days of October, much of the attention was on one Representative and one Senator.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) led a fight to defund Obamacare and egged on House Republicans to do the same, leading in large part to the government shutdown. That made things difficult for House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) as he tried to bring the opposing factions of his party together.

However, now that a deal has been reached to reopen federal facilities, the focus has shifted to 29 members of Congress. They are the bipartisan group of Senators and Representatives who will, we hope, work out a budget deal by Dec. 13.

Those 29 Capitol Hill lawmakers represent this week's By the Numbers figure.

They are led by Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, Republican chair of the House Budget Committee, and Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, chair of the Senate Budget Committee. The pair met the media after their negotiation kick-off breakfast on Oct. 17.

But the other 27 members of the budget conference committee also deserve to be named.

Joining Ryan from the House are Republicans Tom Cole of Oklahoma, Tom Price of Georgia and Diane Black of Tennessee and Democrats James Clyburn of South Carolina, Chris Van Hollen of Maryland and Nita Lowey of New York.

Murray's colleagues from the Senate are Democrats Ron Wyden of Oregon, Bill Nelson of Florida, Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, Mark Warner of Virginia, Jeff Merkley of Oregon, Chris Coons of Delaware, Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, Tim Kaine of Virginia, Angus King of Maine and Bernie Sanders, Independent of Vermont who caucuses with the Democrats.

Senate Republicans include Jeff Sessions of Alabama, Charles Grassley of Iowa, Mike Enzi of Wyoming, Mike Crapo of Idaho, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Rob Portman of Ohio, Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire and Roger Wicker of Mississippi.

Tax writers, too: While the conference committee members serve on their respective chamber's budget panels, some also are on the Congressional tax-writing committees.

Conferees who are on Senate Finance are Wyden, Nelson, Stabenow, Grassley, Crapo, Portman and Toomey.

House Ways and Means members on the budget conference committee are Ryan, Price and Black.

21st time the charm? Reconciling the budget resolutions that each Congressional chamber passed back in March won't be easy.

The Senate's budget framework calls for almost $1 trillion in new revenue. The House proposals crafted by Ryan focuses on an overhaul of Social Security and Medicare programs.

But at least now they will try. Nineteen previous attempts at a House-Senate budget conference were blocked by Republicans before the government shutdown. Another attempt to talk about Uncle Sam's finances was nixed again by the GOP while most federal offices were closed.

Previous budget agreement failures: Earlier efforts to reduce the deficit but still fund popular federal programs were met with little enthusiasm. 

Following the debt ceiling fight during the summer of 2011, a so-called Super Committee was empaneled and charged with coming up with a budget deal. The threat of indiscriminate and broadly applied budget cuts imposed via sequester was used as the stick to get the bipartisan Congressional group to reach a deal.

The Super Committee was a glorious failure. Sequester kicked in on March 1.

And oh yeah. Four of the current budget conferees -- Murray, Portman, Van Hollen and Clyburn -- were on the Super Committee.

We probably shouldn't have been surprised. Another special financial conclave of D.C. luminaries and members of Congress tried a year earlier and ended with a budget negotiation whimper.

It was officially known as The National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, but came to be known, depending on your political leanings, as the Simpson-Bowles or Bowles-Simpson panel. It was helmed by former GOP Sen. Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles, chief of staff in Bill Clinton's White House, and tasked by Obama with coming up with a way to get the country's spending under control.

Simpson and Bowles issued their own suggestions for deficit reduction, but couldn't convince enough members to sign off so the proposal went nowhere. Ryan and Crapo were on the commission and voted no on the chairmen's proposal.

Some suspect that some version of Simpson-Bowles recommendations, such as the Zero Plan that would eliminate tax breaks in exchange for markedly lower tax rates, might make it into the current budget negotiations.

I think that's being a bit too optimistic. With an election year on the horizon, voters might be leery of losing tax benefits even if it means their tax rates are lower. But we shall see ... I hope!

Note the names of those on the budget conference committee and let them know what you expect of them, especially if they are your Representative or Senators.

Bankrate Taxes Blog icon More budget and tax analysis: Since the resolution of the government shutdown and associated budget conference topped recent news reports, it's no surprise that last week at my other tax blog I examined whether the coming debt deal might jump-start tax reform talks.

As I noted in my Simpson-Bowles mention earlier, I don't really see any major tax changes coming out of the conference. But I wouldn't mind being surprised.

While the shutdown was winding down, tax life went on. So last week at Bankrate Taxes Blog I also noted that the Oct. 15 remained as the final deadline for taxpayers who got extensions to file their returns. If you missed that due date and owe the Treasury any money, you best get your 1040 to the Internal Revenue Service ASAP.

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Brian Huber

An entire breakfast consumed by two individuals who can only agree platitudes but not a single budget item reduction. This is what happens when people are spending the money of others.

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