The fight over government funding this year has dominated headlines, played out bitterly on Capitol Hill and landed Republicans and Democrats with the first government shutdown in 17 years.
Now, with just 10 days to go before Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., are expected to unveil their long-awaited budget compromise, some are casting doubts that Republicans and Democrats will really be able to negotiate a deal.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, signaled Tuesday it was Senate Democrats holding up the negotiations.
"Chairman Ryan's done a very good job of outlining very serious offers, but we can't get Senate Democrats to say 'yes.' It is time for the other chamber to get serious about getting this work finished," Boehner said during a press conference Tuesday.
Most observers are dubious the budget conference will be able to hammer out a so-called grand bargain - a mix of tax and entitlement reforms - because Republicans and Democrats are coming to the negotiating table with vastly different proposals. For one, Senate Democrats want to fund the government at $1.058 trillion, while the Budget Control Act would allow Congress to spend just $967 billion next year.
Any promise of a grand bargain was off the table for at least the next decade because Republicans and Democrats are so deeply divided, said Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, during a meeting with U.S. News Monday.
Yet many lawmakers on the budget conference still expect Murray and Ryan to negotiate a smaller, two-year deal, which would include replacing sequestration - a set of mandatory spending slashes - with more manageable cuts. The deal would also have to set spending levels for the upcoming fiscal year.
Senate Democrats have been unwilling in the past to accept sweeping entitlement reforms without the promise of additional revenue, but a spokesman for the Senate Budget Committee says that doesn't mean Murray and Ryan won't be able to come to an agreement.
"Chairman Murray continues to work with Chairman Ryan and is hopeful they can reach a bipartisan budget deal," says Eli Zupnick, a committee spokesman.
If Senate and House negotiators cannot come to a consensus by mid-January on the underlying spending levels, the federal government could be headed on another collision course for a government shutdown.
Boehner, though, may bring a spending bill to the floor as early as next week, according to Politico, in order to avoid being blamed for another federal government shutdown. The proposal would fund the government for the upcoming year at the $967 billion level.