Tags: Budget | Deal | Spending | Cuts

Budget Negotiators Seen Close on Deal to Ease Spending Cuts

Tuesday, 03 Dec 2013 01:39 PM

U.S. budget negotiators are close to a deal to ease automatic spending cuts that congressional aides say could increase airline and other user fees instead of ending some corporate tax breaks and making federal workers contribute more to retirement plans.

Negotiators are “down to the last few items,” said Representative Tom Cole of Oklahoma, a member of a 29-member committee aiming to reach an agreement by Dec. 13 that sets federal spending levels for this year and next. Both parties are “careful to say they don’t have a deal,” Cole said.

“It’s not the grand bargain but it’s a workable deal, and in this environment, that’s something to be proud of,” Cole said after a meeting of House Republicans.

Cole said the deal would probably set a higher spending cap of about $1 trillion, instead of $967 billion through mandatory spending cuts known as sequestration and endorsed by the Republican conference. Democrats proposed a $1.058 trillion cap in their budget.

Representative Steny Hoyer, the second-ranking House Democrat, said he will oppose a short-term spending plan that leads to automatic cuts set to take effect in January.

“I believe that hurts our national security, it hurts our economy and it undermines our responsibility of running government at a level that’s productive,” Hoyer told reporters in Washington.

Social Security

The plan being negotiated by House and Senate budget committee chiefs would avoid major changes to entitlement programs such as Social Security that Democrats are seeking to protect and tax increases that Republicans are ruling out. Even so, lawmakers from both parties doubt the plan has the votes to pass Congress.

Republicans including Representative Scott Garrett of New Jersey, a budget committee member, said he thinks the plan goes too far in relaxing spending cuts that are part of a 2011 budget agreement. Democrats including New York Representative Charles Rangel say relying on user fees instead of ending corporate breaks to replace the cuts will hurt average Americans.

Republican lawmakers stressed the need for a temporary spending bill instead of the agreement being discussed by Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin and Senator Patty Murray of Washington, the heads of their budget panels.

Congress Oct. 16 passed legislation funding the government through Jan. 15 as part of the agreement to end a partial shutdown. The budget negotiators have a self-imposed Dec. 13 deadline to complete an agreement.

‘Strong Sentiment’

Cole said House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio may move as early as next week on a temporary spending bill if budget talks fail to produce an agreement in the next few days.

“There’s a pretty strong sentiment in our conference that we don’t want there to be a lot of discussion over the holidays about a potential government shutdown,” Cole said. “There’s a lot of support for that,” Cole said of a temporary bill.

Ryan also said he’d support a temporary measure if budget negotiators don’t reach an agreement.

Boehner told reporters in November that the House would be prepared to vote on a short-term deal to keep the government running at current funding levels if needed. Absent a broader accord, that wouldn’t avert scheduled automatic budget cuts.

The timing of that vote hasn’t been set. The strategy marks a shift for House Republicans, who in October instigated a government shutdown by refusing to fund implementation of President Barack Obama’s health care law.

‘No Appetite’

“There is no appetite to do that again,” Nebraska Republican Representative Lee Terry said in an interview. “There may be a handful of people but even those people have been very quiet.”

Fees paid by airline passengers, or boosting the co-called Sept. 11 security fee on airline tickets, is among the options Murray and Ryan are discussing that budget experts estimate could save up to $11 billion to offset some automatic cuts.

Other options being discussed include $20 billion in changes to federal retirement programs that would require workers to contribute more to their plans and $20 billion from auctioning off government-owned airwaves. Aides said the details are still being worked out.

Hoyer of Maryland downplayed progress being made in the talks.

“There are notional things that are being discussed, but I don’t know of anything specific,” he said.

Democrats have insisted that Republicans include new revenue to obtain a deal. Hoyer said relying only on user fees without ending some corporate tax breaks to generate revenue is “a gimmick.”

The possible Murray-Ryan deal is drawing criticism from some House Republicans. Garrett said there is only a “slim” chance the emerging accord would pass the Republican-led House.

“Give Paul more time and pass” a temporary funding measure “to get us through this period,” he said.

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U.S. budget negotiators are close to a deal to ease automatic spending cuts that congressional aides say could increase airline and other user fees instead of ending some corporate tax breaks and making federal workers contribute more to retirement plans.
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2013-39-03
Tuesday, 03 Dec 2013 01:39 PM
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