Spending fell 5 percent in October to $290.5 billion, mostly because of the across the board cuts that took effect in March. Spending delayed by the shutdown could occur in November, pushing up the deficit next month. But some of that delayed spending, as well as back pay for furloughed federal workers, likely occurred in October after the shutdown ended Oct. 16.
So far, the improving budget picture hasn’t made it easier for Congress and the White House to reach a longer-term agreement on taxes and spending. A fight over the budget and President Obama‘s health care program led to the 16-day shutdown. The battle ended with only a temporary agreement to re-open the government until Jan. 15. And the borrowing limit was extended to just Feb. 7.
Congressional leaders also agreed to set up a House-Senate conference committee that is seeking a budget deal to avoid another shutdown next year. That committee held a public hearing Wednesday that made little apparent progress. It mostly consisted of speeches by members of Congress and testimony by Douglas Elmendorf, director of the Congressional Budget Office.
A top priority for many lawmakers is to replace the automatic spending cuts scheduled for 2014, which are expected to have a greater impact on the budget. Many agencies used spare cash last year to offset some of the cuts. That’s unlikely to be an option this year.
Private talks between House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and his Senate counterpart, Patty Murray, D-Wash., are focused on replacing the across the board cuts with other spending reductions and special interest tax breaks.