WASHINGTON Oct 30 U.S. lawmakers launched a new
round of budget talks on Wednesday with a pledge to work toward
easing automatic government spending cuts but drew familiar
partisan battle lines over boosting tax revenues to help pay for
The 29-member congressional negotiating panel, commissioned
under this month's deal to end a government shutdown and lift
the federal debt limit, has until Dec. 13 to agree on a plan
that would at least reduce the effects of some $109 billion in
spending cuts looming in 2014.
Republican and Democratic panel members have worked in
recent days to lower expectations that the talks could result in
a "grand bargain" that would reduce federal budget deficits by
more than $1 trillion over 10 years. Instead, they are focusing
on a much smaller deal.
Democratic leaders of the conference committee said they
want part of the budget savings to come from increased revenue
raised by closing some tax breaks for corporations and wealthy
Republicans said the savings need to come from cuts to
expensive federal benefits programs and they will not support
"I want to say this from the get-go: If this conference
becomes an argument about taxes, we're not going to get
anywhere," said Representative Paul Ryan, the House of
Representatives Budget Committee chairman who is leading the
Republicans on the panel.
Ryan said Republicans would prefer to use the savings from
eliminating "carve-outs and kickbacks" to lower tax rates, which
they argue would boost economic growth and generate increased
revenues. Republicans want savings from benefits programs such
as the Social Security retirement program and the Medicare
health insurance program for the elderly.
"Let's focus our energy on the task at hand: a budget that
cuts spending in a smarter way," said Ryan, his party's vice
presidential nominee last year.
The panel's Democratic leader, Senate Budget Committee
Chairwoman Patty Murray, said she is prepared to make some
compromises on spending cuts, but only if Republicans are
willing to do the same on taxes.
"While we scour programs to find responsible savings,
Republicans are also going to have to work with us to scour the
bloated tax code - and close some wasteful tax loopholes and
special interest subsidies," Murray said, adding that it was
"unfair - and unacceptable - to ask seniors and families to bear
this burden alone."
The budget panel has 22 senators and seven House members.
Any deal would need a majority vote in each chamber. Democrats
control the Senate. Republicans control the House.
There would be no immediate consequences if the panel fails
to reach an agreement by Dec. 13, but about a month later, on
Jan. 15, government spending authority would run out again,
raising the threat of another government shutdown.
On the same day, a new round of automatic "sequester"
spending cuts would be due to start.
While many Republican conservatives have sought to keep the
automatic spending cuts in place, the next round of cuts would
hit the military harder next year with about $20 billion more in
cuts compared to 2013. This may motivate some Republicans to
push for alternative savings.