WASHINGTON Top Republicans on the House Appropriations Committee on Monday urged budget negotiators to agree on spending levels for two years by December 2 so that Congress can pass annual spending bills and avoid another government shutdown.
Appropriations Committee Chairman Harold Rogers and 12 subcommittee chairs warned in a letter that failure to agree on spending caps could lead to another shutdown and waste the committee's efforts.
"If a timely agreement is not reached, the likely alternatives could have extremely damaging repercussions," the lawmakers said in their letter to House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan and Senate Budget Chairwoman Patty Murray.
Ryan and Murray are currently holding closed-door talks to try to reach consensus on easing automatic spending cuts that would take a $91 billion bite out of 2014 spending on federal agencies and discretionary programs. They are racing against a January 15 deadline, when spending authority for programs ranging from the military to education expires.
The talks were commissioned under a deal to end a 16-day government shutdown in October that was prompted by a similar funding expiration.
Reaching a two-year deal would require significantly more savings in other areas and would be more difficult to reach, as Republicans have refused to consider increased tax revenues and Democrats have resisted major cuts to federal benefits programs such as Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.
But the Appropriations Committee Republicans said that it was important to address funding for fiscal 2015 to avoid a major logjam in the passage of spending bills next year due to automatic "sequester" cuts.
Congress has not passed normal spending bills since 2009, funding the government since then through temporary and stop-gap measures known as continuing resolutions, often with shutdown threats.
"Failure to agree on a common spending cap for FY 2015 will guarantee another year of confusion," the Appropriations Committee members wrote.
(Reporting By David Lawder; Editing by Bill Trott)