Now that Congress has averted an Oct. 1 government shutdown, bipartisan discussions aimed at a longer budget agreement are underway.

Democratic leaders told reporters on Oct. 1 that their staffers have had a couple of budget meetings at the White House, including one with Republican aides. The goal is a deal to set overall discretionary-spending limits for at least the rest of fiscal 2016.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said Democrats want any increases to be the same for defense and non-defense. But finding offsetting revenue-raisers will be “painful work,” he notes.

Marco Giamberardino, National Electrical Contractors Association executive director for government affairs, sees the budget talks as a positive step. He adds that House Speaker John Boehner’s retirement at the end of October and the outcome of the chamber’s GOP leadership elections “will be a major contributing factor in how this deal plays out.”

Many lawmakers and construction officials want any deal to block mandatory spending cuts, under budget “sequestration.” Reid said that “our top priority is lifting the sequester caps, so we can invest in education, infrastructure and other priorities for the middle class.”

The 2013 sequester sliced construction programs by $4 billion, ENR estimated. Defense accounts were trimmed by 7.8%; nondefense programs were sliced by 5%.  Giamberardino says, “The most brutal aspect of the sequestration for the construction industry is that the agencies have no flexibility whatsoever to move funding around to make up for gaps in the various programs.” 

The House and Senate did keep agencies open through a stopgap measure, which President Obama signed  Sept. 30. It only runs through Dec. 11, however.

Congress faces other deadlines before then. The latest of many surface transportation program extensions expires Oct. 29. In addition, Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew said on Oct. 1 that the federal debt ceiling will need to be increased by about Nov. 5.