Surprise: House and Senate on Verge of Budget Agreement

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paul ryanAfter paralyzing, unending battles over the budget and national debt, House and Senate negotiators are on the verge of agreeing on what would be the first successful budget accord since 2011.

But the lawmakers this time are going for the low-hanging fruit — trying to secure a deal that doesn’t reduce the $17.3 trillion debt, close tax loopholes or even replace the brutal cuts brought on by the sequester.

The Washington Post characterized the emerging agreement as a “cease-fire.”

The campaign to control the debt is ending “with a whimper, not a bang,” Robert Bixby, executive director of the bipartisan Concord Coalition, which advocates debt reduction, told the Post. “That this can be declared a victory is an indicator of how low the process has sunk. They haven’t really done anything except avoid another crisis.”

The major players in the negotiations are House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Senate Budget Committee Chairman Patty Murray (D-Wash.), who together chair a 29-member conference committee tasked with approving a plan to fund federal agencies through fiscal 2014, which began Oct. 1, and avoid another government shutdown when a temporary funding measure expires in January.

Aides said when Ryan and Murray finish their negotiations, they’re likely to take the deal straight to the full House and Senate, sidestepping their committee. With the Christmas recess looming, lawmakers want to finish a deal quickly so everyone can get out of town.

The emerging agreement is trying to make a dent in the sequester cuts by raising agency spending to roughly $1.015 trillion in fiscal 2014 and 2015. To cover those increases, Ryan and Murray are fighting over roughly $65 billion in offsets, including cuts to federal worker pensions and higher security fees for the nation’s airline passengers.

Ryan said he would not attempt a big deal, because it would require a “grand bargain” in which Democrats agree to cut safety-net spending in exchange for Republican concessions on taxes. Bruised by government shutdowns and intransigency, both sides aren’t predisposed to shoot for such a lofty goal right now—especially not with Christmas recess on the horizon.

 

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