WASHINGTON Dec 5 U.S. congressional negotiators
on Thursday aimed to put the finishing touches on a two-year
budget deal that would avoid another federal shutdown next month
and suspend some across-the-board spending cuts set to hit
military and other domestic programs, congressional sources
Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray and House of
Representatives Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan were trying
to seal a deal before a Dec. 13 deadline.
Their hope is that the House would approve the emerging deal
before an end-of-year recess that is supposed to begin on Dec.
13. If the House, led by Republicans, were to approve the
measure, it would be up to the Democratic-controlled Senate to
sign off too, probably the following week.
But first, Ryan and Murray had difficult issues to resolve,
including the size of benefit cuts to federal workers'
retirement programs and possible fee increases for air
Both measures would be part of a broader effort to either
raise non-tax revenues or cut costs in order to ease some of the
automatic spending cuts known as "sequestration" that began
earlier this year.
"The last few steps are the hardest," a Senate Democratic
leadership aide said of the Murray-Ryan negotiations.
A House Republican aide said that the House-Senate budget
plan would provide a top-line spending number of around $1
trillion in fiscal 2014 as well as 2015 for programs and
agencies that Congress funds each year, ranging from the
military to national parks.
That top-line number would allow Senate and House
appropriators to then parcel out funding to the various federal
agencies for the rest of this fiscal year, which began on Oct.
1, as well as the one that starts on Oct. 1, 2014.
Lawmakers, exhausted from three years of non-stop budget
fights culminating in a 16-day shutdown of many federal agencies
in October, hope a deal would bring some sanity to the broken
budget process. The string of budget crises has contributed to
historically low public approval ratings of Congress.
Among the non-tax revenues considered in the talks is a
contribution of around $10 billion from an increase in airport
security fees paid by air travelers. Airlines for America, an
industry trade group, estimates the Transportation Security
Administration fee would double to $5 per ticket if the proposal
is adopted, said Jean Medina, a spokeswoman for the group.
"We think this is really a wrong-headed move, especially
when air travelers are already so heavily taxed," Medina said,
adding that the trade group handed out air sickness bags at
Reagan National Airport this week as part of a campaign to stop
the fee increase.
Also unclear was whether any deal would contain some
unrelated fiscal measures that tend to arise every year. Those
could include a temporary "patch" to prevent a scheduled
reduction in payments to doctors treating elderly patients in
the Medicare program, or an extension of federal jobless
benefits that are set to expire at the end of this month for the
The White House piled pressure on Republicans on Thursday to
extend the benefits with a report that estimated a failure to
take action could lead to a loss of 240,000 jobs in 2014.
About 1.3 million Americans stand to lose jobless benefits
on Jan. 1 unless Congress agrees on an extension
If Ryan and Murray do reach a deal, it could draw opposition
from liberal Democrats, who do not support subjecting federal
workers to additional budget savings, as well as from
conservative Republicans, who will not get the long-term cuts to
Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security programs that they have