Paul Ryan
Paul Ryan Reuters

Congressional budget conferees have yet to reach a breakthrough to avert a repeat next year of the fiscal disasters seen in October, but they are still negotiating.

Eli Zupnick, spokesman for Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray, D-Wash., said Monday his boss returns to Capitol Hill Tuesday to continue face-to-face negotiations with her House counterparts. He added that work was being done throughout the weekend in an effort to meet the Dec. 13 deadline.

As part of an agreement to end the 16-day government shutdown in October, the House and Senate were required to appoint budget negotiators, after Republicans gave up their opposition to doing so. The committee is now working against the Dec. 13 deadline to reconcile the greatly differing budgets from the two chambers. But a budget compromise has long eluded the two sides.

Going into these renewed talks, both Murray and House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., have said there will be no "grand bargain" and they are therefore looking for a smaller deal.

Zupnick wouldn’t go into the specifics of the continued talks but reiterated that leaders are still optimistic they can cut a smaller deal. Murray "remains hopeful,” he said.

The House Budget Committee didn’t respond to an interview request before this article was published.

Under the temporary compromise reached in October, the government is funded until Jan. 15 and the debt ceiling limit lifted until Feb. 7. This means that without a new agreement the U.S. will be facing another funding lapse in the near future, and its borrowing authority would expire. The last shutdown cost the U.S. economy $24 billion, according to estimates.

Ryan promised last month at the Wall Street Journal’s CEO Council that there will not be another government shutdown next year. The House Budget chairman said avoiding a shutdown depended on whether he and Murray can get to an agreement, or have another temporary funding measure, called a continuing resolution.

“Either of those scenarios will prevail and therefore, we will not have a government shutdown,” Ryan said.

The focus of the budget talks, a Democratic aide familiar with the talks said, surrounds sequestration; specifically how much of it to replace, for how long, and what should it be replaced with.

The sequester, the name given to the automatic across-the-board spending cuts, took effect March 1, slashing $85 billion from the budget last fiscal year. It reduced overall spending from $1.043 trillion to $986 billion. If it continues next year, spending will further decrease.

But drafting even a modest deal isn’t as easy as one might think, given the fundamental differences between the two sides.

Democrats don’t want to replace sequestration with spending cuts alone. At the same time, Ryan has said if the discussion becomes about raising taxes, then there will not be a deal.

The optimism among the leaders persists because they are working with a narrower scope. It’s a matter now of what the tradeoffs will be. A smaller deal, said the Democratic aide, makes it easier get to the revenues and spending cuts being negotiated.

“It’s still not easy and they haven’t reached a deal yet,” the aide said. “But many people are optimistic.”

During a press briefing on Monday, when asked about what President Barack Obama is doing to avoid another shutdown, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said, “It is hard to imagine that Republicans would want to go down that road again.”

“We continue to negotiate in good faith,” he later added. “We hope and believe that the Republicans who said they would not shut the government down again meant it when they said it.”